Pervis Payne’s attorneys say DNA from unknown person found on knife; judge says not enough to exonerate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The defense team for death-row inmate Pervis Payne said they will petition Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to commute his death sentence based on DNA results from the 1987 crime after a Shelby County judge dismissed their petition Tuesday.

Payne’s defense team presented evidence they say showed DNA from another male on a knife handle at the crime scene. The DNA was too degraded to identify an alternate suspect, but attorneys said it was consistent with Payne’s claims of innocence.

“There is male DNA from the person that did hold the knife,” Kelley Henry, the Defense Attorney, said.

The defense team says it received the DNA report from an independent lab Monday night. They claim while Pervis’ DNA was also found on the knife, it was not in a location that would allow him to be the killer.

“The person that held the knife, it wasn’t Pervis Payne, because he’s eliminated. They use that word in the report, eliminated,” Henry said.

However, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan said nothing in the evidence exonerated Payne.

“There is nothing that exonerates Pervis Payne that is shown in this lab result. Nothing exonerates him,” Skahan said.

Payne was convicted in the 1987 deaths of Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter inside a Millington apartment. He was scheduled to be executed on December 3, but was granted a temporary reprieve by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee due to the pandemic.

The reprieve will end in April 2021.

In September, a judge granted Payne’s motion requesting additional analysis of DNA found at the scene of the murders.

Payne’s lawyers and supporters have maintained that he is innocent, and suffers from an intellectual disability.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich issued a statement after Tuesday’s court hearing:

“Judge Skahan dismissed the defendant’s petition today because nothing in the DNA testing exonerates Pervis Payne. The evidence of Payne’s guilt was and still is overwhelming. The jurors declared so with their verdict in 1988. Countless appellate courts have said it since. Partial unidentified DNA on the handle of the murder weapon is a false mystery. It could have come from any one at any time – before or after the murders.”

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