Monday, June 01, 2009


Pervis Payne

Pervis Payne

In 1988, Pervis Payne, an African-American, was convicted in Shelby County and sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Charisse Christopher, a white woman, and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie. He was also convicted and sentenced to thirty years for the attempted murder of Nicholas Christopher, Charisee Christopher's three-year-old son.

On June 27, 1987, Payne went to his girlfriend's apartment in Millington to wait for her to return from a trip. His girlfriend's apartment was across the hall from the Christopher family. Later, around 3:00 p.m., the prosecution argued that after a day of drinking and injecting cocaine, Payne entered the Christopher apartment and made sexual advances toward Charisse. When she refused him, the prosecution argued that Payne stabbed Charisse repeatedly with a butcher knife. The attacker also stabbed the two children. Lacie died in the attack, but her brother Nicholas survived. According ro prosecutors, Payne was discovered by police as he was leaving the building with blood on his clothing and an overnight bag in his hand. When Payne was confronted, he struck the officer with the bag and fled, only later to be arrested.

At his trial, Payne denied killing the Christopher family. His girlfriend, Bobbie Thomas, testified that such violence was inconsistent with Payne's character, as both she and her children had only experienced love and care from him. Three other witnesses testified on Payne's behalf denying that he was a drug user and commenting on his church attendance, as his father is a Memphis pastor. At the time of his trial, Payne had no prior criminal record, and though he had a low IQ, was deemed to be mentally competent.

During the trial, Charisse Christoper's mother was allowed to testify concerning the effect of the murders on Nicholas, the only survivor of the attack. In the sentencing phase, the prosecution argued for the death penalty in part because of the ongoing psychological trauma to Nicholas. Payne was sentenced to death on both murder counts.

Attorneys for Payne later argued to the Tennessee Supreme Court that the victim impact statement from Chariesse's mother violated his Eighth Amendment rights while also violating an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision in Booth v. Maryland, barring such statements. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld both Payne's conviction and sentence. The case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, overturning the earlier Booth decision. Justice Thurgood Marshall lamented that "power, not reason, is the new currency of this Court's decisionmaking."

In 2005, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Payne a new sentencing hearing, but the court reversed itself and disallowed the sentencing hearing based on a new U.S. Supreme Court decision. The case of Pervis Payne highlights the inconsistency of the courts in applying the law in death penalty cases and the constitutional pitfalls of allowing victim impact statements to influence convictions and sentences.

Pervis Payne has filed a lethal injection lawsuit challenging the same lethal injection procedures found to be unconstitutional in the case of E.J. Harbison. Payne is also requesting that DNA from the crime scene be tested.

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