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Pervis Payne Case Evidence Will Be Tested for DNA

Courtesy of the Innocence Project


For the first time, DNA testing of some evidence will be conducted in the case of a Tennessee man on death row seeking exoneration as his execution date approaches.

A judge agreed on Wednesday to a request from Pervis Payne's defense attorneysto test several items from the crime scene.

Payne, 53, received a death sentence for the 1987 double murder of Charisse Christopher, 28, and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo, in Millington.

For over three decades, Payne has insisted he was wrongfullyconvicted. He says he heard commotion across the hall in the apartment complex where he was visiting his girlfriend. He entered the crime scene to try to help, he says, but fled when officers arrived, fearing false accusation and arrest. Payne is Black, and the victims were white.

DNA testing was not available at the time of his trial. His legal team says testing bloodied items like the murder weapon could help identify other suspects. The court said in its ruling that because of advances in DNA technology, the possibility of finding DNA on items from the crime scene, whether it belongs to Payne or a third party, “is far greater now.”  

Attorney Vannessa Potkin with the Innocence Project argues Payne’s ordered execution—scheduled for December—is already unconstitutional because he has an intellectual disability. 

“He shouldn’t even be on death row in the first place, but now doing this DNA testing can help us get to the truth,” she says, adding that the evidence will be immediately shipped to a lab for analysis with results expected in under two months.  

Although Tennessee bans the execution of an intellectually disabled person, Payne’s lawyers filed another legal challenge this week arguing that the state lacks a formal way for him to appeal his execution on these grounds. 

Shelby County prosecutors originally fought the request for DNA testing, arguing that evidence may have been contaminated with extraneous DNA at any point before or after it was collected. They also argued that results of testing would not be enough to counter other evidence a jury relied on to convict Payne

But District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement that her office will not appeal the judge’s most recent decision. 

“We will await the results of the testing that defense assures can be done quickly,” Weirich said. “We do however have concerns that touch DNA has been deposited on the items over the last 33 years since the murders happened.”