The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) will file a bill to consider inmates diagnosed with intellectual disabilities ineligible for death row.
The State General Assembly goes back into session on Jan. 12, but advocates for Death Row inmate Pervis Payne hope a decision is made on his behalf well before Payne’s scheduled execution on Dec. 3.
“We’ve asked Gov. [Bill] Lee to, at the very least, grant Mr. Payne a reprieve so that this legislation can work its way through the 112th General Assembly,” said defense attorney Kelley Henry.
Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability, was convicted of murdering a woman and her daughter in 1987 and has been on Tennessee’s death row for decades. A 2002 Supreme Court decision ruled executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment and advocates hope to “bring Tennessee law in compliance to what the Supreme Court requires,” said Henry.
“People like Mr. Payne fell through the cracks of procedural technicalities, so this law patches that procedural,” said Henry.
The bill is expected to have bi-partisan support and have no difficulties passing.
“The basic language that we have now is the language that will become law,” said TBCSL Chair G.A. Hardaway, Sr.
The case attracted attention from local and nationwide news outlets after a judge allowed DNA testing related to the 32-year-old case, but Payne’s attorneys are now battling a decision by Shelby County prosecutors, who claim the evidence was shown erroneously, according to The Innocence Project.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s office was recently racked with scandal when an assistant prosecutor was fired for allegedly misusing confidential information, which enraged advocates for Payne.
“Shelby County has a record of blowing cases,” said David Allen Hall, a bishop from Memphis’ Temple Church of God in Christ.
Although the bill only addresses disability, Payne’s defense attorneys hope the delay will be enough to prevent Payne’s execution date.
“The execution of a mentally disabled citizen as defined in Tennessee Code Annotated is unconstitutional and akin to state-sponsored murder,” said Hardaway.