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Tennessee May Soon Execute an Innocent Man

On December 3, 2020, 53-year old Pervis Payne is set to be executed in a Tennessee penitentiary.

Mr Payne is a black man who had no prior criminal convictions, and who suffers from intellectual disability. Mr Payne has been held on Death Row for over 30 years of a crime he claims to not have committed.

At this crucial stage, DNA testing of previously hidden evidence could finally prove Mr Payne’s innocence in the murder of 28-year old Charisse Christopher and 2-year old Lacie Christopher, as well as the assault of Christopher’s son, who was 3-years old at the time of the attack. The prosecutor is opposing testing of this evidence.

On June 27, 1987, Mr Payne was seen fleeing an apartment complex covered in blood. Mr Payne was arrested later that day under the suspicion of Charisse and Lacie Christopher’s murder, as well as the assault of Christopher’s son.

Mr Payne claims that he had been waiting for his girlfriend, Bobbie Thomas, in the same apartment complex of the attack. Upon approaching his girlfriend’s apartment, Mr Payne noticed a man run past him. Mr Payne then observed that the unit across from his girlfriend’s door had been left ajar, and upon entry after hearing sounds of distress, Mr Payne discovered a bloody and stabbed Christopher. In failed attempts to help her and her children, he fled to wave down police, but was then stricken with fear of being held accountable for these brutal attacks. In fear of being falsely accused of this crime, Mr Payne fled the apartment complex.

Disturbingly, Mr Payne’s trial was contaminated by overt racial bias and flimsy insinuations, to buttress weak and circumstantial evidence. For example, Mr Payne was accused of having cocaine on his person upon arrest, despite him claiming it did not belong to him. It was later pointed out by attorneys that there was no evidence of Mr Payne having any evidence of prior drug use. Mr Payne’s mother had even pleaded that authorities perform a drug test on her son to prove that he did not use drugs, however her wishes were rejected. Scratches found on Mr Payne’s chest were thought by law enforcement to have been received through a struggle with Charisse Christopher, however Mr Payne claimed to have received those slight injuries through weightlifting.

At long last, due to the dedicated work of the Innocence Project, as well as Mr Payne’s attorneys, it has now been established that important evidence in favor of Mr Payne had been withheld by the prosecution. Mr Payne’s attorneys are seeking DNA testing of evidence that could exonerate him of these crimes. The DA continues to oppose defense efforts to reinvestigate the case, including DNA testing of crucial evidence.

The piece of evidence that could prove Mr Payne’s innocence is blood-stained bedding sheets that were kept in Christopher’s apartment. DNA on one particular comforter had been previously hidden by the prosecutor, and was only discovered upon re-investigation. The DNA on this bedding could prove that Mr Payne had no involvement in the murders, and that he is wrongfully set for execution for crimes that he did not commit.

Mr Payne had no motive for the crime. It was also disclosed that with the evidence provided now contradicts the prosecution’s theory of the crime as well. Mr Payne’s conviction was advanced by racist stereotypes propounded by the prosecution.

Wrongful convictions of prisoners, including many who were incarcerated as a result of racially-based accusations, should not be allowed to continue. Our justice system is supposed to give everyone a fair trial with every right to investigate all possible avenues of defense. When the system does not work, innocent persons can languish in prison and even be put to death for crimes they did not commit.

To read more about the important work of the Innocence Project, and additional details about Mr Payne case, including how you can support the work that is being done to save Mr Payne’s life, turn your browser to www.innocenceproject.org.

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