Activists Gear Up As Courtroom Weighs Whether or not Pervis Payne Ought to Be Spared From Execution | WPLN Information
Dr. Charles Steele Jr. delivers a passionate speech in support of Pervis Payne’s allegation of innocence ahead of a hearing in Memphis.Tasha LemleyWPLN news
A man who has been on Tennessee death row for more than 30 years recently witnessed a spate of activity on his case.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has joined the campaign to get Pervis Payne released, and he faces an important hearing on an allegation that could save him from execution.
At a rally the Thursday before that hearing, Dr. Charles Steele Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gave a passionate press conference at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that was part preaching and part history lesson.
“By Thanksgiving – Christmas at the latest – we want Pervis at home to celebrate with his family. Free Pervis Payne! ” he cried. “You have to stand behind this Pervis Payne movement. You must march immediately. You need to understand what Dr. King said when he said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.” ”
Dr. King founded SCLC is the newest organization to call for Payne’s release from prison. He has protested his innocence since the brutal murders for which he was convicted in 1987.
Kelley Henry, Payne’s attorney, says the SCLC’s participation in the campaign boosts her client’s cause internationally.
“The attention it pays to this case, I believe, will be crucial in moving the needle, in convincing those who have the power to let Pervis go in that direction,” she said.
Henry and her team joined the Pervis case two years ago. Since then, they have been actively pursuing his claim to innocence.
Payne was sentenced to death for the fatal knife wounds on a Memphis woman and her child. He doesn’t deny being at the scene, but says he went into the apartment because he saw signs of anger and wanted to help.
In January, his lawyers released the results of tests that showed someone else’s DNA was also on the murder weapon. Prosecutors say the evidence does not excuse Payne.
At the same time, his lawyers tried to overturn his death sentence because he was mentally disabled. Both state law and the U.S. Supreme Court prohibit executions of people with intellectual disabilities, but until April, when the Tennessee Legislature passed bill creating a new way for people to hear this argument, his lawsuit was his not previously decided.
This morning Payne and his attorneys stand in criminal court to challenge some of the state’s evidence against his intellectual disability claim.
The main hearing on this claim is scheduled for December 13th.