The Story of Pervis Payne


Cassidy Vawter

Pervis Payne has been on death row for the past 32 years for a crime that he and his legal representatives argue he did not commit, and says that DNA can prove his innocence. Let me say that again: 32 years of this man’s life have been spent locked away in prison for a crime that DNA tests could show he never committed. His execution is set for December 3rd, 2020. 

He has been convicted of the murder/attempted of Charisse Christopher and her children, the neighbors of Payne’s girlfriend, in June of 1987. His defense team states that he rushed to help the victims of this bloody attack; however, once the police arrived, they were quick to blame Payne. He was arrested that same day and later convicted of murder and sentenced to death row in Feburary, 1987. 

Payne has maintained his innocence for 32 years, continuously requesting DNA testing. For three decades the county District Attorney, Amy Weirich, has opposed and blocked the possibility of DNA testing, which is not a rare occurrence, as the Shelby County (Memphis, Tennessee) District Attorney’s Office has a long-standing history of refusing testing that could prove one’s innocence. A judge finally allowed DNA testing in mid September. Even with the allowance of DNA, the judge did not shift Payne’s set execution date. 

Weirich still continues to attempt to block DNA evidence, making the following statement:  “We will await the results of the testing that defense assures can be done quickly. We do however have concerns that touch DNA has been deposited on the items over the last 33 years since the murders happened.” There is fear that Weirich and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office will do anything in their power to push the “unreliance” of this DNA testing.

Many claim that the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office used racial stereotypes to paint Payne, a man with no motive, as a violent black man who murdered an innocent white family, yet another common phenomenon the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is accused of doing often. 

Furthermore, Payne has an intellectual disability, which only added to the cards stacked against him in court. He was written off as an unreliable witness on his own behalf due to his disability, further allowing the court to take advantage of him. But this disability also means it is unconstitutional to execute him due to the ruling of Atkins v. Virginia, yet the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is pushing for his execution date in just over a month. Atkins v. Virginia  states that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments, but states can define who has an intellectual disability. 


There was an official White House petition created on July 25 asking for justice. If 100,000 signatures were collected within 30 days, the White House was obligated to look into Payne’s case. With less than 500 signatures necessary to reach the goal of 100,000 in 30 days, the time was up — Payne had been let down yet again. However, a second petition, made on August 25, exceeded the necessary signatures with 112,615. 

The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office is one of many with accusations of racial bias. Payne’s case is, sadly, yet another illustration of the clear bias and inequality in our justice system. Payne’s case is not a stand-alone, it is not the first of this nature, and it will not be the last. But that won’t stop advocates from fighting for him.

So what can advocates do? While his case is a result of discrimination and inequity in our justice system, issues too large for one person to fix before December 3, supporters can at least fight to provide justice for one man. First, advocates can continue to spread the word about his case; share his name, and don’t let it be forgotten; call demanding justice: the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office phone number is (910) 222-1300; write emails, letters, anything and everything. The more voices advocating for him, the more likely they will be heard. In addition, advocates can sign this innocence project petition.

With every day that passes, Payne is one day closer to his execution. Advocates push for Payne’s fight to be global, with support from all ends of the earth even if the whole system is rooting against him.