MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s a big decision to be made after somber moments in Judge Paula Skahan’s courtroom on Tuesday.
“This has been in the court system a long, long time and it’s down to me as to whether Mr. Payne will be eligible for parole in six years or whether he will serve the rest of his life in prison,” Judge Skahan said.
Payne, his loved ones, and the family of the two victims will have to wait a little longer to see what his sentence will be.
It’s up to the judge to decide if he will be resentenced concurrently, meaning his life sentences run at the same time, or consecutively, meaning one after another. This determines how long he would have to wait until he’s possibly up for parole.
The family of Charisse and Lacie Christopher talked about their loss.
Distraught, Kathy Hites, who was once a sister-in-law to Charisse Christopher, talked about the break down of the family dynamic after Charisse and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie were murdered 34 years ago.
She said the family stopped celebrating holidays together.
“And what I saw after the murder of my sister-in-law and little Lacie was a family that shattered,” she said. “And it was taken away from us. Charisse didn’t have a choice, we didn’t have a choice.”
Sister Angela Johnson said Charisse’s 3-year-old son who survived multiple stab wounds has had a difficult time growing up, saying, “He completely shut down.”
Several times, she spoke directly to Judge Paula Skahan.
“Please, honor Charisse and Lacie. Don’t let their lives be in vain,” she said.
Judge Skahan apologized for the family’s heartbreak.
“I can’t know it fully but I am so so sorry.”
Charisse’s younger brother James Zvolanek acknowledged what he heard over the last day and a half as attoneys for Pervis Payne called 19 witnesses to testify about his character.
“I have quietly listened to testimony about gentleness, helping others, caring, being a good person and having a big heart. From all accounts that describes my sister,” he said. “Since Charisse and Lacie were murdered, my family has suffered tremendously. Thursday, December 16 is Charisse’s 63rd birthday. There will be no party, just like there were no parties the last 34 years. It will be a trip to the cemetery.”
Payne’s attorneys have maintained he is innocent.
“The hard thing for us in there is we’re not allowed to talk about our evidence of innocence and so we have to sit there while folks say Pervis did all these things,” said Attorney Kelley Henry.
Henry said the 19 witnesses who talked over the last day and a half prove this. Members of his family, community and even wardens at the prison where he’s housed said he is a person who helps others.
One captain at the prison said Payne came to his aid after another inmate assaulted him, requiring him to get 57 stitches.
“And what did he do on June 27, 1987? He tried to help. He tried to help people who had been attacked,” Henry said.
But the judge cannot consider innocence.
“Our system is broken. The fact that she can’t consider it shows how broken our system is because an innocent man is going to stay in prison no matter what her decision is. And no matter what her decision is it will still be up to a parole board to decide whether or not he gets out,” Henry said.
The judge said she planned to issue a written ruling but also called for the case to be back in court at the end of next month.