The Cases

Pervis Payne:

TAKE ACTION NOW The Case of Pervis Payne: Test the DNA

Sign up to advocate for for Pervis Payne. Mr. Payne is a black man from Shelby County, living with intellectual disabilities, and facing execution on Dec. 3, 2020, in Tennessee.

The Innocence Project, along with Mr. Payne’s other attorneys, have filed a petition for post-conviction DNA testing on his behalf. Mr. Payne, who had no prior criminal history, has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years.

New DNA evidence uncovered last year could exonerate Mr. Payne, even as the State plans his execution for December. Please get involved today to ask the Shelby County DA to test the evidence in this case.

BACKGROUND: Pervis Payne is a black man from Shelby County, living with intellectual disabilities, and facing execution on Dec. 3, 2020, in Tennessee.

The Innocence Project, along with Mr. Payne’s other attorneys, filed a petition for post-conviction DNA testing on his behalf. Mr. Payne, who had no prior criminal history, has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years.

New DNA evidence uncovered last year could exonerate Mr. Payne, even as the State plans his execution for December.

In the court filing, attorneys asked the Shelby County Criminal Court to order DNA testing on bloody bed sheets that have been hidden in an evidence bag since 1987.

In 1988, Mr. Payne was tried and convicted in the stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie. Christopher’s 3-year-old son Nicholas survived his stab wounds. The family was found on the kitchen floor soon after the attack.

As reported in the Tennessean (see below), Mr. Payne said he came to their apartment building that June afternoon to visit his girlfriend, who lived down the hall.

During his trial, he said he discovered the gruesome crime scene after hearing calls for help through the open door of the apartment.

“I saw the worst thing I ever saw in my life,” he said from the stand.

He said he bent down to try to help, getting blood on his clothes, and pulling at the knife still lodged in Christopher’s throat.

When police arrived, he said, he panicked and ran away, fearing he would be seen as the prime suspect.

And according to the court filing, his worst fears were then realized. A police officer saw Mr. Payne running from the building, and from that point forward, he became the only suspect, though there were other individuals with motive for the murders.

“Mr. Payne was convicted based on a speculative theory comprised solely of circumstantial evidence,” the filing states.

DNA testing was never done to match blood from the kitchen to a potential killer. And police reports from the time said the kitchen was the only crime scene.

But on Dec. 20, 2019, when federal public defender Kelley Henry went to Shelby County to review the evidence, she made a remarkable discovery: new evidence “that had been in the State’s possession the whole time.”

In the previously unknown evidence bag labeled “Bedroom,” Henry found bed sheets, a comforter, and a pillow, all soaked in blood. None of that evidence was mentioned in police reports or at trial.

Courts had denied a previous request for DNA testing in the case. But Mr. Payne’s lawyers hope that the subsequent rulings and the discovery of a new bag of evidence will be enough to secure the testing.

If this case is sounding familiar to you, that’s because it is.

There are striking parallels between Mr. Payne’s case and the case of Sedley Alley, a Shelby County case that TADP has been highlighting for years.

Both crimes occurred in Millington, TN, with Mr. Payne’s case following only one year after Mr. Alley’s.

Mr. Alley requested DNA testing in his case after suppressed evidence was uncovered. He was wrongfully denied this testing.

One year later, Mr. Payne asked for DNA testing in his case and was denied based on the decision in Mr. Alley’s case.

Mr. Alley was executed by the State of Tennessee in 2006. Five year later, though, the decision barring the DNA testing that he sought, was overturned. His estate is currently seeking the DNA testing.

With the discovery of new, uncovered evidence hidden for 33 years in Mr. Payne’s case, he is again seeking DNA testing.


Sign up to advocate for for Pervis Payne.

Also, we need to educate the public about the serious problems in this case and urge the Shelby County DA’s office to test the DNA.

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Read the Tennessean article.

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman and Sedley Alley

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman has been on Tennessee’s death row for over 30 years. His capital murder trial, held in Nashville in 1987, lacked both crime scene evidence and presentation of his history of mental illness because of the violent abuse he endured as a child. Eight of the twelve trial jurors now say that they no longer have confidence in their sentencing verdict.

Abu has never received a fair trial.

In 1998, a Federal District Court overturned his death sentence finding “ineffective assistance of the counsel at sentencing. In other words, the court found that Abu did not have the proper help from his attorney as the Constitution mandates. Then in 2000,  in a split decision, the Sixth Circuit court reversed and reinstated Abu’s death sentence.

After years of execution dates, stays of execution, and more litigation, in 2019, Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins approved a deal agreed on by Abu’s attorney, the victim’s family, and the Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk to remove Abu’s death sentence and replace it with three life sentences. The Davidson County Criminal Court hearing that led to this agreement focused on the misconduct of the original prosecutor, John Zimmerman, including when he improperly blocked three black members of the jury pool.

A few weeks later, the State of Tennessee Attorney General’s Office appealed the order from Davidson County Criminal Court. Abu’s legal team responded: “The Tennessee Constitution gives the District Attorney the exclusive authority to handle criminal cases within his district…The Attorney General  is not seeking to uphold our most cherished constitutional principles. Instead, [he] is taking a stand for racism and a prosecutor’s violation of his constitutional and ethical duties.”

During his time on death row, Abu-Ali has earned a paralegal degree, private investigation degree, and Rule 31 mediator degree. He is a senior mediator for his prison unit. He serves as the elected representative of his unit, negotiating with the prison administration on behalf of his fellow prisoners.

His execution date of April 16, 2020, was removed and exchanged for a sentence of  life in prison sentence by the Davidson County Criminal Court, but now, with the State’s appeal, Abu’s execution date could be reinstated.

Please visit for more information on this case.


Sedley Alley

Tennessee executed Sedley Alley on June 28, 2006, after Tennessee courts refused to conduct DNA tests on crime scene evidence that could have proved Mr. Alley’s innocence and identified the murderer. Five years later, in 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court acknowledged that the ruling in his case was wrong and overruled it in State v. Powers.

On April 30, 2019, April Alley, the daughter of Mr. Alley and the executor of his estate, asked the Criminal Court for Shelby County in Memphis for the post-conviction DNA testing that should have been conducted before Mr. Alley was executed. She has also requested that Governor Lee order the DNA testing in light of his executive power to grant posthumous pardons.

Mr. Alley was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins, but reinvestigation of the case over the years has shown that the evidence against Mr. Alley was weak. There are items of evidence, including men’s red underwear found near Ms. Collins’s body that police believed were worn by her attacker, that could provide proof of Mr. Alley’s innocence and help to identify the real assailant. Dr. Richard Leo, an expert in false confessions, has analyzed the case and determined that Mr. Alley’s confession was likely false, as key details in Mr. Alley’s statement about how the crime was committed do not match the forensic evidence.

In addition to the potentially problematic confession, other physical evidence from the crime scene and eyewitness accounts do not match Mr. Alley. For example, the tire tracks found at the crime scene were not from Mr. Alley’s vehicle. Recovered shoe prints did not match Mr. Alley’s shoes.  Also, a key witness’s description of a man with a station wagon where Ms. Collins was abducted described that man as 5’6-8” tall with short brown hair and a dark complexion. Mr. Alley was 6’4” tall, had red, medium-length hair, and a light complexion.

In 2006, the Tennessee Board of Pardons and Parole recommended that then-Governor Bredesen stay Mr. Alley’s execution and order DNA testing. Instead, the governor directed Mr. Alley’s defense team to present their request for testing to the Tennessee courts, which refused the testing and allowed his execution to proceed.

In 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court expressly overruled the decision that denied Mr. Alley’s request for testing. If Mr. Alley were alive today, he would be granted DNA testing.

After learning about a new lead in this case, April Alley decided to move forward with this request for DNA testing.  Innocence Project attorneys, who are representing Ms. Alley, along with Tennessee attorney Stephen Ross Johnson, received a letter in the spring of 2019 from law enforcement sources in St. Louis, informing them that they had indicted Thomas Bruce, a suspect in a homicide and rape, who they believe might be a serial offender. After looking into his history, law enforcement discovered that Mr. Bruce was taking courses at the same Avionics Training School in Millington as Ms. Collins in the months prior to the homicide.

Given this new lead, the State of Tennessee has the opportunity now to find the truth. The truth is all that April Alley wants and is what the justice system should demand. The public’s interest in having the right defendant brought to justice extends beyond Mr. Alley. If Tennessee executed the wrong person in 2006, the actual perpetrator may still be free to harm other people. This is a matter of public safety, and the testing must be conducted.

Upcoming Execution Dates:

Oscar Smith

Attorneys for Tennessee death row inmate Oscar Smith have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to delay his June 4 execution date because of COVID-19.  Postponed to 2021.    Read more here.

Harold Nichols: Execution date set for August 4, 2020.  Postponed to 2021 because of COVID-19.

Byron Black: Execution date set for Oct. 8, 2020. Postponed to 2021 because of COVID-19.

Tennessee resumed execution in 2018 after nearly a decade without one. Since 2018, Tennessee has executed:

  • Billy Ray Irick, August 9, 2018
  • Edmund Zagorski, November 1, 2018
  • David Miller, December 6, 2018
  • Don Johnson, May 16, 2019
  • Stephen West, August 15, 2019
  • Lee Hall, December 5, 2019
  • Nick Sutton, Feb. 20, 2020

Each of these men spent decades on Tennessee’s death row before their executions.