Prosecutors admit Tennessee man cannot be executed

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The Memphis, Tennessee district attorney announced yesterday that the state will no longer fight to have Pervis Payne executed. Instead, in light of expert findings on Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability, the state will ask the court to replace his death sentence with two life sentences.

In 2002, the Supreme Court of Atkins v. Virginia held that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on people with intellectual disabilities.

Mr. Payne’s lawyers have argued that he cannot be executed legally because he is intellectually disabled, citing evidence that he has a functional IQ of 68.4 and well-documented adaptive deficits.

Dozens of witnesses, including family members, teachers and colleagues, describe his inability to read, do simple calculations, remember information, or perform tasks such as preparing a meal, doing laundry or shopping for himself, even as a teenager.

Tennessee courts have refused to consider Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability claim, citing procedural rules.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Legislature passed a new law which allows people like Mr. Payne to ask the lower court to determine whether they are intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

Under the new law, a hearing to determine Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability has been set for December 13.

District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a declaration that a state expert who reviewed Mr. Payne and the available records prior to the hearing “could not say that Payne’s intellectual functioning is outside the range of intellectual disability.”

“After reviewing the evidence, the law and expert opinions, the state stipulates that the petitioner would be recognized as having an intellectual disability,” prosecutor Steve Jones wrote in a court file, according to to the Independent.

As a result, the state withdrew its request for a hearing and admitted that Mr. Payne could not be executed due to his intellectual disability.

Mr Payne, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman and her two-year-old daughter in 1987 when he was 20 years old.

For the past 33 years he has been on death row in Tennessee, he has maintained his innocence, to explain that he was near the crime scene because his girlfriend lived across the hall, heard a noise and went to help, was overwhelmed by what he saw, and he panicked and went ran in fear.

His lawyers said DNA test on previously untested evidence, male DNA from an unknown third party was found on key evidence, including the murder weapon.

After the prosecutor’s announcement yesterday, Mr. Payne’s lawyer noted they will continue to fight for its full exemption.

“Our evidence that Pervis is intellectually disabled is unassailable and his death sentence is unconstitutional,” said Payne’s lawyer Kelley Henry, noted. “The state has done the right thing today by not pursuing unnecessary litigation. This matter will now be completed in a very short period of time. However, we won’t stop until we uncover the evidence that will exonerate Pervis and free him from prison. “

Mr. Payne was due to be executed last December before a delay was announced.

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