Shelby County DA responds to death penalty appeal for man convicted of 1987 murders

Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 1:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich says she’s petitioning a judge to dismiss a request for new DNA testing in a 1987 murder case.

The man convicted of the murders, Pervis Payne, has been on death row for more than 30 years, and now the Innocence Project is involved in his case.

Payne was convicted of the June 1987 murders of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie, in Millington. The two were stabbed multiple times along with Christopher’s son, Nicholas, who survived.

His attorney say Payne was waiting at his girlfriend’s apartment when he found the bloody scene. He was arrested later that day and later convicted and sentenced to death.

According to the Innocence Project, attorneys found evidence in December, including bloodstained bedding, that was never tested for DNA. They say it contradicts the prosecution’s theory that the crime took place exclusively in the kitchen.

Citing that evidence, Payne’s attorneys submitted a petition last week for new DNA testing.

Weirich said the evidence Payne’s attorneys found in December is actually not connected to his case at all.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Weirich said the attorneys visited the Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk’s property room in December 2019 and were mistakenly shown a bag of bloodstained bedding from a 1998 crime scene in Memphis.

The district attorney said Thursday there is no new or untested evidence in Payne’s case.

Weirich said Payne’s conviction has been reaffirmed by various courts over the years and the petition is just an attempt to delay his execution.

Payne’s attorney released a statement a short time after the district attorney’s news conference, saying Weirich is wrong to oppose DNA testing in the case.

Kelly Henry, supervisory assistant federal public defender, said the claim that the wrong bag of evidence was shown to Payne’s attorneys 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,” writes Henry. “There is a long line of bungling in this case, leading to Mr. Payne’s wrongful conviction.”

Henry claims police tampered with crime scene evidence and moved the victims’ bodies.

According to the Innocence Project, Payne had no motive and was a victim of the prosecution’s racial stereotyping. They also say it’s unconstitutional to execute him because he has an intellectual disability.

Payne’s attorneys also point the finger at Christopher’s ex-husband who they say had a history of abuse.

“If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne,” writes Henry.

Payne’s execution is scheduled for Dec. 3.

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