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Nationwide rallies support Mid-South death row inmate Pervis Payne

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 9:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A nationwide protest took place for Pervis Payne, the Mid-South man awaiting execution for a double murder.

Supporters say Payne is innocent and should be removed from death row because he’s intellectually disabled.

Weekly rallies have taken place at the corner of Union and McLean in Midtown Memphis every Wednesday for the past year. On Wednesday, September 8, the movement marked its first anniversary with protests around the country calling for justice.

Reverend Andre E. Johnson, senior pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries in Memphis, told Action News 5 he was called to action by God.

“I’m out here bearing witness that something happened in this case that should not have happened and that people need to re-examine this case,” said Johnson.

Elaine Lee Turner, director of Slave Haven, the Underground Railroad Museum, said she showed up for the rally because the justice system did not do its due diligence.

“It’s time for us to stand up all over, not just Memphis, but all over this country when we see injustice,” Turner said.

Protests took place from Memphis to Nashville, Washington D.C. to Massachusetts.

Payne’s attorney, Kelley Henry, called Payne a remarkable man who, after three decades in prison, still has hope and faith.

“He is a person who lives with an intellectual disability,” said Henry. “He is a person who was wrongfully convicted and has spent 34 years in a prison for a crime he did not commit. He was put in prison based on a racist system, a system that has institutionalized white supremacy.”

And because Payne is disabled, said Henry, it’s unconstitutional to execute him.

Payne was sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter in Millington. He told investigators he heard his neighbors call out for help and went to check on them. He said he got blood on his clothes trying to help them and ran from the scene when police arrived out of fear. He has always maintained his innocence.

750,000 people have now signed an Innocence Project petition calling for his release.

“Pervis Payne does not need to be on death row,” said Johnson. “I am out here because I believe we all need t to be out here to free Pervis Payne.”

Governor Bill Lee delayed Payne’s execution last year because of the pandemic. His next court date is December 13. A state expert is expected to testify about whether Payne has an intellectual disability or not.

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