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Court Ruling Creates Possibility of Parole for Pervis Payne

Pervis Payne (right) during his resentencing hearing, December 13.
Pervis Payne (right) during his resentencing hearing, December 13.

A man who—up until a few months ago—was facing state execution, could now seek parole within the decade after a Shelby County judge delivered a crucial ruling in his favor.

Pervis Payne, 54, originally received the death penalty for the 1987 double homicide of a Millington woman and her toddler daughter. But in November that was reduced to two life sentences due to a determination that Payne has an intellectual disability. It prompted his defense team to petition the court for the sentences to be served at the same time rather than back-to-back.

On Monday, Judge Paula Skahan agreed, paving the way for Payne to become eligible for parole in five years.

“We believe that he will come home in five years,” his attorney Kelley Henry said. “He has an impeccable record in the prison.”

Payne has been incarcerated for 34 years.

Shelby County prosecutors contended the sentences should run consecutively, which could have kept Payne behind bars for the rest of his life. Members of the victims’ family had asked the judge for the same.

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office is requesting the state attorney general appeal the court's decision.

“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," District Attorney General Amy Weirich said in a statement. "The statute does not authorize changing the original trial judge’s ruling that multiple sentences in the case should be consecutive.”

Although Skahan called the fatal stabbings of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo, “egregious,” she said the state did not convince the court that Payne presents a danger to society.

“Unrefuted evidence presented at the sentencing hearing shows Mr. Payne has made significant rehabilitative efforts while incarcerated,” her ruling reads, adding that he has family and friends to support him should he earn his release.

Payne has maintained he was wrongfully convicted, and his supporters have tried to prove his innocence.

“After 34 years, and fighting to see this day as such, it’s just overwhelming,” his sister, Rolanda Holman, said after the judge’s ruling.

Payne is also convicted of intent to commit murder of Christopher’s son, Nicholas, who survived the attack on his family three decades ago. The five remaining years Payne must serve before he can apply for parole are a result of this sentence.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org