On Wednesday, a Tennessee Court Decides on Allowing DNA Testing – Pervis Payne’s Life Depends on It.


By Alana Bleimann

TENNESSEE – Pervis Payne may know this coming Wednesday if he’ll be killed Dec. 3 or not.

On September 16 of this year, the Shelby County Criminal Court will issue a decision on Payne’s request for DNA from any and all crime scene evidence. Pervis Payne maintains his innocence and his lawyers continue to pursue DNA testing.

But if the decision Wednesday is not the right one, Payne will be executed Dec. 3.

From a young age, Pervis Payne has lived with an intellectual disability. Never doing well in school and struggling to even properly feed himself until age five, Payne’s disability could end up costing him his life.

At only 20 years old Payne was sentenced to death following the 1987 stabbing of a neighbor and her two children (one daughter and one son).

The mother and daughter were found dead but the son survived.

Unknowingly walking into a fresh crime scene, Payne tried to help the family but was instead handcuffed by the police when they arrived.

No other suspects were questioned and no DNA was taken from the scene—proving to be two of the main arguments for Payne’s innocence, his attorney Kelley Henry continues to argue.

In addition to no other suspects being accounted for, Payne and his family argue that he was racially profiled, and most notably, that “[the state of] Tennessee has no business executing persons who are intellectually disabled.”

As a young black man, Payne knew he would become a prime suspect the second he saw that the victims were white and female.

He also knew, or thought, that he’d be able to maintain his innocence because of his disability.

In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that bans the execution of any individual with an intellectual disability because they “make poor witnesses on their own behalf.”

Having been a “poor witness” on his own, Payne falls perfectly into the safety net that the Court’s 2002 ruling provides.

Regardless of these provisions, the state of Tennessee has failed to create procedures for Payne and other defendants like him.

One way to dismiss this case, exonerate Payne once and for all, and find the true perpetrator is to collect DNA evidence.

Shockingly, no such evidence was collected at the time of his trial. A number of items could have been collected, such as the victims’ bloodstained clothing.

Despite the overwhelming innocence that any DNA evidence could produce, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich announced in late July 2020 that she will not allow DNA testing of evidence in this case.

Her arguments were based on a 2006 decision that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2011.

Despite this decision, the ruling still holds strong and Payne is set to be executed on December 3.

Pervis Payne has spent 33 years on death row in Riverbend Maximum Security institution in Tennessee and will continue to serve his time until further proceedings.

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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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