On Thursday, the Shelby County district attorney general, Amy Weirich, announced her decision to stop pursuing the death penalty against Tenessee death row inmate Pervis Payne, a case that’s drawn the attention of Island activists. The given reason was that state experts examined Payne and available records, “and could not say that Payne’s intellectual functioning is outside the range for intellectual disability,” according to Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper based in Memphis, Tenn. Tennessee legislators also passed a law in April allowing death row inmates with mental disabilities to appeal their sentences based on mental disabilities.
Payne was convicted in 1988 for the murder of a mother and her baby daughter, Charisse and Lacie Christopher, in Millington, Tenn. For 34 years, Payne and his family have maintained that he is innocent. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate those who have been wrongfully convicted, also joined in Payne’s case.
A collaborative effort between Martha’s Vineyard Black Lives Matter and Disrupt Death Row led to the “Disrupt Death Row: Art and Justice” fundraising event at the Kara Taylor Gallery in Chilmark. The July event raised more than $50,000 toward Payne’s campaign. Islanders gathered again at Vineyard Haven, led by Disrupt Death Row, to rally in support of Payne.
“The effort behind this event illustrates the power of our island community, working together to help right the injustices of a system that doesn’t serve every citizen equally,” Disrupt Death Row member Amy Cody said in an email to the Times. “The disparities and injustices against Black, indigenous, and people of color in our criminal justice system are painfully obvious … these disparities and injustices are a shameful part of our legacy, past and present.”
“Thursday’s breakthrough in Pervis’ case was monumental, and we have the utmost respect for Roland Holman, his sister, who has been fighting for his life for 34 years and never lost hope. We are humbled to have been welcomed to Team Payne, continue to work with Kelley Henry [Payne’s lawyer], and we will not stop fighting for him until he comes home. We are working alongside legal professionals, families, and other activists to help free Pervis Payne and advocate for the reform of our criminal legal system,” Disrupt Death Row member Lisette WIlliams said on behalf of the organization. She invites anyone who wants to join Disrupt Death Row’s activities to visit tinyurl.com/DDRoptin.
Payne’s appeal is still pending before the court, but he will be serving two life sentences for the murder of Charisse and Lacie Christopher, according to Commercial Appeal.