Justice for Pervis Payne


Governor Lee: As people of faith, we demand a commutation for Pervis Payne

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Dear Governor Lee,

We join together as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Quakers, and other people of faith to call on you to commute the sentence of Pervis Payne. As we enter the holiday seasons of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, our faiths call on us to protect one another and to seek justice. We know that Pervis’s life must be protected.

Pervis Payne has been on death row in Tennessee for over 30 years, despite living with an intellectual disability and without key evidence from his case being tested for DNA. Mr. Payne has maintained his innocence throughout this process — and we know that people living with an intellectual disability are at special risk for wrongful conviction. 

At the core of Pervis Payne’s story are the intersecting legacies of racism and injustice — ones that as people of faith, we have a duty to stand up against.

Mr. Payne had no history of violence or substance abuse and has always maintained his innocence. But because of his disability, Mr. Payne was not able to fully participate in his defense. The Supreme Court of the United States and the Tennessee Supreme Court have both held that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional — yet Mr. Payne remains on death row.

In addition to exploiting his intellectual disability, prosecutors presented a story full of racial stereotypes at trial. Recent DNA tests revealed additional unknown DNA that does not belong to Mr. Payne on the handle and blade of the murder weapon. Now, the most salient piece of DNA evidence — the victim's fingernail scrapings — are inexplicably missing. There are also other suspects: We know that the victim’s ex-husband had a history of violence towards the victim and had motive, as the victim had recently left him and was in a new relationship.

There are simply too many questions in this case to permit the execution to move forward.

For all of these reasons, it is crucial that you stop this execution so that the investigation into who killed Charisse Christopher and her daughter can continue.

Our faiths teach us that it is our duty to protect one another. Many of us understand that freedom and liberation from injustice are integral parts of our traditions, our histories, and our futures — they are things we must constantly work towards. In the case of Pervis Payne, we must ensure that our justice system is truly seeking justice, not harming those who are innocent.

Governor Lee, as people of faith like you, we are asking you to commute the sentence of Pervis Payne.

Signed by: 

  • Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Memphis
  • Catholic Committee of Appalachia-Tennessee Chapter
  • Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas, Renaissance Presbyterian Church
  • Amanda Messick, Trichair, Tennessee Poor People's Campaign
  • Sue Malone, Church Council President, St. Luke Lutheran Church
  • Rev. Clifford Bahlinger, Senior Pastor, St. Luke Lutheran Church
  • Meggan Kiel, Organizer, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action & Hope (MICAH)
  • Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein, D.D., Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel
  • Francis McNeil, Founder, Mobile Homeless Ministry
  • Rabbi Bess Wohlner, Temple Israel
  • Rev. Janet Wolf, Children's Defense Fund
  • Rev. Garry Fair, Wilson Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Dr. Ron Buck, Reverend, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Pam Kintner, Bluff City Church
  • Rev. Edith A. Love, Church of Resistance, Memphis
  • Rev. Stephanie Dodge, Glendale Methodist Church, Nashville
  • And hundreds of multifaith leaders and activists in Memphis and across the country