Imagine getting caught in an unlucky situation and being wrongfully accused of committing a crime. It is decided that you will be arrested and put on death row. However, you did nothing wrong! This is the situation that Pervis Payne has been in jail for more than half of his life. The prosecutors never conducted a proper investigation on his case, and Payne deserves to be investigated properly.
Payne has been on death row in Tennessee for more than 30 years. According to FindLaw, in 1987, he was accused of the murder of Charisse Christopher, a 28-year-old woman, and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie. Her son, Nicholas, who was 3 years old at the time, survived the attack.
Payne was going to visit his girlfriend who lived in the apartment across the hall from Christopher’s apartment, according to FindLaw. He told the authorities that he discovered the crime scene after hearing cries of help from the apartment.
Payne has been claiming his innocence since he was arrested, but the evidence that was found was taken out of context and erroneously pointed the murder at Payne. According to the Tennessee news publication Commercial Appeal, Payne’s fingerprints were found on a phone and some beer cans, and it is unsure whether an orange syringe was found or not.
But there is evidence that the investigators just gathered evidence at the scene of the crime that made it seem like Payne, a Black man, murdered Christopher, a white woman, while he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and they unfairly painted Payne as a “drug-crazed killer” at trial. Commercial Appeal also wrote that investigators made no attempt to take any samples of blood that were left in the apartment.
Although it is plausible that a man under the influence of these substances could have murdered two innocent people, it is also likely that Payne was not the murderer. In Tennessee Court, Pervis Tyrone Payne vs. State of Tennessee, it is recorded that when Payne’s girlfriend Bobbie Thomas testified, she said that Payne did not drink or use drugs, and that it was inconsistent with his character to have murdered the Christophers. Dr. John T. Hudson, a clinical psychologist, also conducted a couple of intellectual tests on him, and said that Payne was one of the most polite people he has ever interviewed in jail. Someone kind like Payne wouldn’t normally commit crimes like these.
There were signs of Christopher fighting back against the attacker, which means that there might be DNA under her fingernails. Christopher’s fingernail scrapings were taken, but they weren’t presented in court. The clothing of the victims were also not examined or preserved before the trial. There could be important evidence that gave clues to who the attacker was, but the victims’ clothes were not investigated. It was reported by Tennessee’s Commercial Appeal that during the 30 something years that Payne has been on death row, many crucial pieces of evidence went missing.
According to Death Penalty Information Center, in recent months, Payne’s defense team has gotten closer to getting Payne off of death row. In April 2021, a bill was passed in Tennessee that prevented intellectually disabled people from being executed. Mental health experts conducted tests on Payne and concluded that Payne is indeed intellectually disabled. The results show that Payne has been intellectually disabled since his childhood. In May, Payne’s attorney filed a petition to take Payne off of death row because of his intellectual disability. Payne’s family, friends, defense team, and supporters hope that he’ll be taken off of death row and hopefully even released from jail.
On July 14, Innocence Project stated that Payne’s legal team released a statement on the DNA test results from a couple of objects found at the crime scene. Innocence Project said that the DNA found on pieces of key evidence and the murder weapon belonged to a male from an unknown third party. However, the results are too damaged to determine who that other male is, and there still is no explanation as to why key pieces of evidence from the crime scene in 1987 disappeared.
Payne is also not the only suspect in this case. Innocence Project reports that Payne, along with another eyewitness, reported to have seen a man running from Christopher’s apartment. The DNA that was found could be the DNA of this man.
It is worth noting that race may have played a factor in this sloppy investigation. Would an innocent man like Payne have been on death row for more than 30 years if he wasn’t black? Probably not. DPIC analyzed death-row exonerations in February of 2021 and found that African American defendants were usually targeted by police and wrongfully convicted and executed. Furthermore, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that white victims were involved in the cases of 82% of the people on death row right now.
DPIC also reports that Black people only make up 13.4% of the United States population, but 34.1% of all defendants executed in the United States since 1976 were black. Further, of the interracial murder cases in the United States since 1976, there were 297 cases in which a black defendant was executed for murdering a white person. There were only 21 cases in which a white defendant was executed for murdering a black victim.
This ultimately portrays the blatant racism that our criminal justice system has. This system has been corrupt for many years, and it needs to change for the better. Our criminal justice system must realize that everyone is equal. No race deserves a harsher punishment than another. Payne may be just another victim of this systemic racism.
Is there still a possibility that Payne is the man behind the murder of Charisse Christopher and her daughter? The answer is yes; there is always a possibility that despite all the evidence proving Payne’s innocence, he had still committed this crime. But we won’t have an answer until he receives a proper and fair investigation.