Tennessee judge vacates death sentences for inmate convicted in 1987 killings

·2 min read

A Tennessee judge has vacated an inmate's death sentences after he served more than 30 years on death row.

The judge vacated the execution of inmate Pervis Payne after he was convicted in the 1987 killings of two people due to his intellectual disability, according to a report from CNN.

Shelby County Judge Paula Skahan wrote in an order that Payne's petition to remove the death sentences "is supported by two expert opinions concluding that Petitioner is intellectually disabled pursuant to Tennessee law as well as the decisions of the United States Supreme Court," according to the outlet.

Skahan vacated the sentences on Nov. 23, less than a month before Payne was scheduled for execution on Dec. 3.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute an inmate who is mentally disabled, but it was only after Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill into law this year that changed Tennessee's definition of intellectual disability that Payne was able to make his case.

After the judge's decision, Payne could be seen hugging his attorney during an emotional moment with his lawyer.

Payne was found guilty of murder in connection with the deaths of a 28-year-old mother and her 2-year-old daughter in a Memphis suburb. Payne has maintained he is innocent in their deaths.

A petition on Change.org pushing to free him has garnered nearly 500,000 signatures as of Saturday.

Following the judge's decision this month, Payne's sentences have been downgraded to two life sentences, according to CNN.

Payne's family told the Innocence Project, an organization working to free those who are wrongfully convicted, that it was delighted with the news he would not be executed, which came two days before Thanksgiving.

"Thanksgiving for me will never be the same and I am sure I am speaking for my father as well," said Rolanda Holman, Payne's sister.

"This will always be a monumental week from now on because that's how I feel today. Although he is not able to come to the table and have Thanksgiving with us, it gives me such a drive and reignites my fire even more to work toward that day when he will be able to sit at the table with our family and have a good slice of turkey," she added.

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