Tennessee Court Clears Way for Parole of Long-Incarcerated Pervis Payne as Early as 2027

The Vanguard Staff

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While the Shelby County District Attorney vowed to appeal, former death row incarcerated Pervis Payne could be released on parole in as little as five years, thanks to a ruling by a district judge, as announced Monday by the attorney for the long-imprisoned Payne.

“The Judge considered this matter thoughtfully and deliberately and did the right thing by making the sentences concurrent. She followed Tennessee law, which favors concurrent sentences and places the burden on the State to prove that consecutive sentencing is necessary to protect the public,” said Kelley Henry, Payne’s lawyer Monday.

Henry added, “The Shelby County D.A. was effectively asking for a sentence of life without parole – which is not authorized under the law. The plain fact is, Pervis Payne is no threat to society and he never was.”

Payne, who has been imprisoned on charges from a 1987 stabbing in Millington, Tennessee, has always maintained his innocence in the fatal stabbings of Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter in Millington, Tennessee.

Payne’s death sentence was vacated in November after he was determined to be intellectually disabled.

Judge Paula Skahan, in the 30th Judicial District, ruled Monday morning Payne’s two life sentences plus 30 years will be served concurrently, which would make Payne eligible for parole after serving 39 years, or 2027. He’s already served 34 years.

The Supreme Court has ruled people with an intellectual disability cannot be executed, and Payne’s attorneys claimed he was ineligible for the death penalty for that reason.

“Pervis had never been arrested before and has always maintained his innocence. Over two days, the court heard from 19 witnesses on Pervis’ behalf, including three wardens and a corrections officer who testified that Pervis cared for him when he was attacked in prison and waited with him until medics arrived,” his attorney said.

“Pervis’ prison record, which spans over 2,700 pages, is unblemished. Prison officials also testified that Pervis will qualify for the lowest security level possible because of his perfect record,” added Payne Defense Counsel Henry.

“Citizens from our community testified that they have gotten to know Pervis through volunteering for programs on death row. They describe Pervis as gentle, kind, spiritual, and helpful. Pervis’ family and friends described Pervis as a sweet, loving child who was close to his parents and loved to laugh,” Henry said in a statement.

Henry noted that friends and family described a “tight-knit community which, if Pervis is granted parole, will welcome him home and help him navigate a very different world than the one he left in 1987.”

However, Attorney Henry was careful to note that the judge will not decide if Payne is released on parole, and that “Our work is not yet done. This journey will continue until we uncover the truth and Pervis is exonerated.”

Henry cautioned Monday, “It is important to know that the Judge does not have the authority to grant Pervis parole. The parole board is the only entity that can. They have strict guidelines and procedures which must be followed. Because Pervis has been on death row, unlike other prisoners, he will receive no credit for good conduct.

“We are profoundly grateful to Gov. Lee, Rep. GA Hardaway, and the Tennessee Legislature, for answering the call of the Tennessee Supreme Court to modernize our state’s intellectual disability law which paved the way to removing Pervis from death row. Without them, Pervis would be facing execution.”

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said she has asked the State Attorney General’s Office to appeal the ruling, arguing, “We respectfully disagree with Judge Skahan’s interpretation of the new statute that removed the one-year statute of limitations on claims of intellectual disability. The statute does not authorize changing the original trial judge’s ruling that multiple sentences in the case should be consecutive.”

Payne’s chief counsel Henry said they are confident the judge’s ruling will stand on appeal.

“We are equally grateful to our broad and diverse nationwide coalition of supporters, including more than 150 faith and community leaders right here in Memphis,” Henry added, noting, “We are thankful to the Innocence Project for partnering with us to help prove Pervis’ innocence.”

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