On August 30, 2023, the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that formerly death-sentenced prisoner Pervis Payne can serve his two life sentences concurrently, making him eligible to apply for parole in less than four years. Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan resentenced Mr. Payne in 2022 to two life sentences with the possibility of parole after prosecutors conceded that they could not disprove Mr. Payne’s claim that he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. The state appealed Judge Skahan’s ruling, asking that Mr. Payne’s sentences run consecutively.

In response to the Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling, Kelley Henry, Mr. Payne’s attorney, said, “The Court of Criminal Appeals reached a just result today, but it was also the only correct result under Tennessee law. Tennessee law presumes that sentences will run concurrently (at the same time), unless the State can prove that consecutive sentencing (one after the other) is necessary to protect the public. The State failed to meet its burden because Pervis Payne isn’t a threat to anyone and he never was, at any point in his life.”

Mr. Payne has consistently maintained his innocence in the murder of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter. His 1988 trial was tainted by racial bias, and he was unable to present evidence that he is intellectually disabled. His legal team worked for nearly two decades to have a court hear his claim of intellectual disability. Until 2021, Tennessee had no legal mechanism for challenging death sentences that were upheld on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, the decision which held the death penalty unconstitutional for individuals with intellectual disability. Mr. Payne’s attorneys filed his intellectual disability claim the day after the 2021 law went into effect allowing him to challenge his death sentence.

Payne faced an execution date in December 2020 that was reprieved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Lucas Finton, Former Tennessee death row inmate Pervis Payne eli­gi­ble for parole in 4 years, Commercial Appeal, August 302023.

Read Kelley Henry’s state­ment here.