The Cases



Pervis Payne:

TAKE ACTION NOW AND ASK GOVERNOR LEE TO GRANT CLEMENCY TO PERVIS PAYNE

BACKGROUND

Mr. Payne is a black man from Shelby County, living with intellectual disability, and facing execution on Dec. 3, 2020, in Tennessee.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that executing a person with intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Over the course of Mr. Payne’s case, Tennessee’s judicial and legislative branches have abdicated their responsibility for ensuring that he is not unconstitutionally executed.

DNA evidence from the crime scene could exonerate Mr. Payne, even as the State plans his execution for December. Recently, a Shelby County Court ordered the DNA testing, but critical pieces of evidence, that could confirm Mr. Payne’s unwavering claim of innocence, are now missing

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

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.

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 had no history of violence or illicit drug use and has always maintained his innocence. In addition to exploiting his vulnerability because of his intellectual disability, prosecutors presented a story of a drug-addled, sex-crazed Black man preying on a White woman at trial.

TAKE ACTION

Write a letter to Governor Bill Lee asking him to commute Pervis Payne’s death sentence to life.

A sample letter is provided below.

We ask that you put this letter into your own words while maintaining the central themes. Please focus your concerns on this particular case and not the broader issue of death penalty repeal.

Dear Governor Lee,

I am writing to ask that you prevent a grave injustice and commute the death sentence of Pervis Payne to life. 

Mr. Payne, who is scheduled for execution on December 3, 2020, is a person living with intellectual disability whose racially charged case has all the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined that executing a person with intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Over the course of this case, Tennessee’s judicial and legislative branches have abdicated their responsibility for ensuring that Mr. Payne is not unconstitutionally executed. That leaves you with the power to prevent this miscarriage of justice by granting clemency to Pervis Payne.

Mr. Payne had no history of violence or illicit drug use and has always maintained his innocence. In addition to exploiting his vulnerability because of his intellectual disability, prosecutors presented a story of a drug-addled, sex-crazed Black man preying on a White woman at trial.

While testing crime scene evidence for DNA was recently authorized, the State is now missing key pieces of evidence that, if tested, could validate Mr. Payne’s unwavering claims of innocence.

I grieve for Christopher family. They deserve justice. That cannot come through executing a man with intellectual disability, who may, in fact, be innocent.

Governor Lee, I urge you to consider all these issues and exercise your power to grant clemency to Pervis Payne.

Respectfully,

Your Name

Address

Email

Letters can be mailed to:

Governor Bill Lee

1st Floor, 600 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Nashville, TN  37243

Or emailed to:

bill.lee@tn.gov

 

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New Info: On January, 19, 2021, a hearing was held in a Shelby County courtroom to reveal the DNA results from the testing of the remaining crime scene evidence in the case of Pervis Payne. The testing found unknown male DNA on the handle of the murder weapon. But, the sample was to degraded to run through the FBI database to see if a matching DNA could be identified.

The most critical evidence, the fingernail scrapings from the victim, which could have identified the actual perpetrator, was not tested. In a July hearing where the State argued against any testing, it did affirm that the fingernail scrapings were in its possession. However, in a September hearing, when the judge ordered the testing, the State then said that this evidence had disappeared.

Without addressing the missing evidence, in the January 19th hearing, the judge determined that the existence of this unknown male’s DNA on the murder weapons was not enough to exculpate Mr. Payne.

Mr. Payne’s attorneys made this statement after the hearing:

The DNA testing results are consistent with Pervis Payne’s long-standing claim of innocence. Male DNA from an unknown third party was found on key evidence including the murder weapon, but unfortunately, is too degraded to identify an alternate suspect via the FBI’s database. We continue to find it frustrating and disturbing that the State still has no explanation for how key pieces of DNA evidence that could conclusively prove who committed this crime—including the victim’s fingernail clippings —have gone missing. Today’s results make crystal clear that it would be a gross miscarriage of justice for Tennessee to execute Pervis Payne.

— Vanessa Potkin, Director of Post-Conviction Litigation, Innocence Project
— Kelley Henry, Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender, Middle District of Tennessee, Capital Habeas Unit
— January 19, 2021

Read more about this case.

Ready more about the DNA testing results.

Read an oped by Bishop David Allen Hall.

 

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 justiceforabu.org 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 indefinitely because of COVID-19.    Read more here.

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

Byron Black: Execution date set for Oct. 8, 2020. Postponed indefinitely 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.

 

 

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