Memphis District Attorney Opposes Death Row Man’s Petition for DNA Testing


By Zhuoshan Liu

MEMPHIS, TN – Friday, Pervis Payne’s attorney’s request for DNA testing was opposed by Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability and no criminal record, is scheduled for execution on December 3, 2020.

Last December, his attorney found that there was some hidden evidence which has not been tested for DNA. As a response to the opposition, Kelley Henry, one of the members of Payne’s defense team, said:

“The District Attorney is wrong to oppose DNA testing in Pervis Payne’s case. She is wrong on both the facts and the law. On the facts, the DA’s assertion that the wrong bag of evidence was handed to Mr. Payne’s attorneys in December 2019 raises more questions than answers. Even putting the bedding aside, there is abundant evidence from the crime scene that could definitively prove that Mr. Payne is innocent.”

Attorney Henry added, “There is a long line of bungling in this case, leading to Mr. Payne’s wrongful conviction. The police tampered with evidence at the crime scene. They moved the victims’ bodies. If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne.

“On the law, the DA is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006. There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case. The DA should not be citing out of date, overruled cases. It’s now more important than ever that this case get a full hearing before a judge.”

Defense counsel asserts that if the DNA can be tested, then the perpetrator can be identified, which means Payne may be proved to be innocent.

However, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich opposed the petition.

Payne was portrayed as a hypersexual and drug user by the prosecution, although the defense said that wasn’t true and that he was a family man with no criminal or drug history.

But the prosecution said Payne wanted to attack a white woman. The prosecution utilized racial stereotypes to make Payne such a person.

Racial stereotypes lead to a number of wrong sentencings, according to studies.

“Studies have found that the victim’s race also influences the likelihood of the death sentence being applied. Nearly 300 Black people accused of murdering white people have been executed since 1976 — approximately 14 times more than the number of white people executed for murdering white people,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center reported.

According to his teacher, Payne had difficulty studying. His family also said that he could not feed himself until he was five years old.

The pleading by the defense argues, “Mr. Payne was only 20 years old at the time of the crime and intellectually disabled, although that fact was not recognized at the time of the trial. He has an IQ of 72 and other evidence of intellectual disability.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of people with intellectual disability in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) is that they present a special risk of wrongful conviction. Mr. Payne was convicted, in part, because he was unable to assist his attorneys in making his defense and he made a poor witness on his own behalf.”

Daniele Selby, a reporter from Innocence Project, said, “Because of his disability, Payne was not able to fully participate in his defense and was not a strong witness on his own behalf.”

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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