Honest and Simply Prosecution Prosecutor Group Urges Tennessee Governor to Grant Clemency for Pervis Payne

By Julia Asby

MEMPHIS, TN – Fair and Just Prosecution, an elected prosecutor’s organization “committed to promoting a justice system based on fairness, justice, compassion and financial responsibility,” called on the governor of Tennessee this week to execute Pervis Stop Payne.

The organization, which has deep concerns about the use of the death penalty, particularly its use on people with intellectual disabilities, urged Governor Bill Lee to consider granting mercy and stopping Payne’s execution.

Fair and Just Prosecution cites historical problems with the death penalty that unfairly affect people of color and intellectual disabilities who are unable to defend themselves.

Payne was mentally retarded and spent 32 years on death row in Tennessee.

Payne was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend’s neighbor and sentenced to death. Payne grew up having difficulty reading, cooking, and performing tasks like laundry and testing. Since then, he has proven that he has an intellectual disability. Because of this, he was unable to defend himself or be a strong witness on his own behalf, prosecutors note.

Fair and Just Prosecution urged Governor Lee to take this into account and recognize that “the unfair implementation of the death penalty in the case of Pervis Payne … would not improve public safety”.

Full letter from Miriam Krinsky:

I write to you as the Executive Director for Fair and Just Law Enforcement (FJP), an organization that brings together a network of elected prosecutors from across the country who are committed to promoting a justice system based on fairness, justice, compassion and financial responsibility. I am writing to express our organization’s deep-seated concerns about the death penalty, as set out below, and specifically concerns about the application of this sanction in relation to persons with intellectual disabilities. We know these issues arose in connection with your review of requests for commutation of the death sentence of Pervis Payne, a black man currently being executed on Tennessee’s death row. Our nation has failed to address serious concerns about the use and application of the death penalty, and now more and more prosecutors and law enforcement officers are rallying to call for the sanction to be abandoned. Time and again we have executed individuals with long histories of debilitating mental illness, childhoods marked by unspeakable physical and mental abuse, and litigators so derelict in their duties and responsibilities that they never bothered for long Uncover health and trauma histories. We probably also executed the innocent.1 Studies show that the death penalty is applied unevenly and arbitrarily, does not improve public safety, and puts a huge strain on taxpayers’ resources

Race also plays a profoundly unjust role in the use of the death penalty. Researchers have documented that defendants have a disproportionately high probability of being sentenced to death – this is particularly and uniquely true when the victim is white. People of color have disproportionately caused 43% of executions in the United States and 55% of the accused since 1976

People of color are currently waiting to be executed. Remarkably, 80% of all death sentences involve white victims, but only half of all murder victims are white.

These problems with the execution of the death penalty are exacerbated in relation to people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities may be more likely to confess to a crime they did not commit6 and be less able to work with their lawyers to come up with a strong defense. In addition, courts and juries may find their testimony less credible. Recognizing this dynamic, the United States Supreme Court at Atkins v Virginia, 536 US 304 (2002), found the execution of people with intellectual disabilities to be unconstitutional and contrary to the prohibition of the Eighth Amendment of Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The Supreme Court also stressed that the execution of people with intellectual disabilities “will not measurably advance the deterrence or retaliation of the death penalty”.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials across the country recognize that the death penalty does not promote public safety and can instead undermine community confidence in law enforcement. In December 2020, nearly 100 current and former elected attorneys, attorneys general and law enforcement officers, as well as former United States and Justice Department attorneys, spoke out against the use of the death penalty.10 They said,

“Our tasks become more and more difficult when people don’t believe that the legal system is working fairly. Public safety is inextricably linked with community trust in the fairness and moral authority of our judicial system. When people believe that the state is executing a person or wrongly using the death penalty – like many in our nation who are increasingly opposed to the death penalty – their trust in our government and law enforcement systems is undermined. Our jobs are getting tougher, as are the jobs of others who want to protect our communities. “

We hope you consider these views as you examine the pending pardon of Pervis Payne, a mentally retarded black man facing execution. Please let us know if we can help you further in this case.

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