Several prominent groups call for Shelby County DA to test evidence for DNA in 1980s murder case

Updated: Aug. 31, 2020 at 6:09 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A powerful group of politicians, lawyers, and civil rights advocates held a press conference Monday demanding Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich to test evidence for DNA in a double murder case dating back to 1987.

A black Memphis man named Pervis Payne was convicted in that case and has sat on death row for 3 decades, but supporters say Payne is innocent.

In the late 1980s, Payne was convicted in the Millington stabbing murder of Charisse Christopher, her 2-year-old daughter Lacie, and the severe wounding of Christopher’s 3-year-old son, Nicholas.

Payne is scheduled to be executed for this conviction on Dec. 3 of this year.

“Wrongful convictions erode the foundation of our justice system,” Linda Harris, an attorney with the Ben F. Jones Chapter of National Bar Association, said.

Monday, the Innocence Project, Memphis NAACP, Tennessee Black Caucus, and several other influential organizations came together inside the National Civil Rights Museum to argue that Payne, who has an intellectual disability, stumbled upon the gruesome scene in 1987 and tried to help the victims.

During his trial, these attorneys claim prosecutors used racial tropes in their arguments against Payne.

“To circumstantial paint him as a hypersexual drug-abusing super predator only looking to victimize a white person,” Asia Diggs-Meador, an attorney with the Ben F. Jones Chapter of National Bar Association said.

These groups are demanding Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich test 15 pieces of evidence from the case for DNA.

“DNA will tell the truth one way or another, DNA isn’t racist, it’s science,” Diggs-Meador said.

In response, DA Weirich who opposes the DNA testing, said Monday in a statement:

“The so-called new evidence is from a murder that happened 10 years after Pervis Payne killed 2 innocent people. It has absolutely nothing to do with this case. As for the evidence actually collected from Payne’s crime scene, DNA testing would accomplish nothing but to delay a convicted murderer’s sentence. If testing was allowed and someone else’s DNA was found on the evidence, Payne would still be prosecuted by our office for these horrific murders. To say otherwise would require me to ignore the overwhelming evidence proving his guilt. DNA testing does not give us a date stamp. DNA evidence was not used to convict him. Testing the evidence and finding someone else’s DNA would only establish that someone else touched the item at some point in time. It would not prove that Payne didn’t kill a mother and her daughter and leave a young boy for dead.”

“All we’re asking is for DNA to be tested,” Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said. “If this is a fair conviction, your guys got it right, you got nothing to hide, then give us the DNA test.”

Representative G.A. Hardaway says the Tennessee Black Caucus is gathering a bipartisan coalition to pressure Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to commute Pervis’ sentence to life without parole to allow time for DNA testing. The US Supreme Court has also ruled executions for those with intellectual disabilities violates the 8th amendment of the US Constitution.

“An unconstitutional execution of a person with a disability defies justice,” Harris said.

Payne’s defense team will argue for DNA testing before a judge Tuesday morning during a scheduled hearing.

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