Tennessee groups call for DNA testing in death row case

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Pervis Payne

Pervis Payne (Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Correction)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A group of Black community leaders in Memphis are calling on a district attorney to support DNA testing for a Tennessee inmate scheduled to be executed in December.

Groups including the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, 100 Black Men of Memphis and the Memphis chapter of the NAACP said Monday that DNA tests on evidence in the case of Pervis Payne could exonerate him in the killing of a woman and her son 33 years ago.

Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich is fighting the request for DNA testing from Payne’s lawyers. In a statement Monday, Weirich said Payne killed two innocent people and there is “overwhelming evidence proving his guilt.” A hearing is set for Tuesday.

Payne, 53, has always maintained his innocence in the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo. Christopher’s son, Nicholas, who was 3 at the time, was stabbed but survived.

At the time of Payne’s trial, DNA testing of evidence was unavailable, and no testing has ever been done in his case.

His attorneys initially filed a petition in July seeking to get DNA tests of the evidence, including the murder weapon and numerous blood-soaked items. An African American lawyer organization is calling for Payne’s sentence to be commuted and reduced to life in prison, arguing he is intellectually disabled.

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