Tennessee Court of Appeals Permits Pervis Payne’s Eligibility for Parole in Four Years

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By Rena Abdusalam

MEMPHIS, TN – The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals this week accepted a lower court’s ruling regarding formerly death-sentenced prisoner Pervis Payne, allowing him to serve his two life sentences simultaneously and apply for parole in less than four years.

In 2022, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan sentenced Payne to two life sentences with the chance of parole in less than four years after prosecutors admitted they could not refute Payne’s intellectual disability claim, making him ineligible for capital punishment.

The state appealed Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Skahan’s ruling, requesting Payne’s sentences be carried out consecutively, not at the same time.

Payne, who has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years, was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend’s neighbor and child in the 1980s. During the trial, he was unable to show evidence of his intellectual disability.

For nearly two decades, his legal team worked to have a court hear Payne’s claim that he is intellectually disabled.

Prior to 2021, Tennessee had no legal procedure for challenging death sentences that were maintained on appeal before the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2002 case, Atkins v. Virginia, which ruled that the death penalty sentence is unconstitutional for the intellectually disabled.

The day after the state’s 2021 law regarding the Supreme Court’s decision went into effect, Payne’s attorneys filed his claim of intellectual disability, authorizing him to challenge his death sentence.

In December of 2020, Payne faced his execution date, which was pardoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Henry, Payne’s attorney, responded to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision, arguing, “The Court of Criminal Appeals reached a just result today, but it was also the only correct result under Tennessee law. Tennessee law presumes that sentences will run concurrently (at the same time), unless the State can prove that consecutive sentencing (one after the other) is necessary to protect the public.”

“The State failed to meet its burden because Pervis Payne isn’t a threat to anyone and he never was, at any point in his life,” ended Henry.

About The Author

Rena is a junior at Davis Senior High School and is currently exploring her interest in the criminal justice system. After high school, she plans to attend college and continue to pursue a career in law.

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