Millington, Tennessee, is a military town and home to the Naval Support Activity Mid-South naval station. Located in Shelby County and known as “Flag City Tennessee,” Millington is described as diverse with plenty of shopping and restaurant options and considered safe and not known for criminal activity.
In the late eighties, that reputation was tarnished, shocking city residents after a mother and daughter were murdered. Purvis Payne was accused and subsequently convicted of killing Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter. Christopher’s three-year-old son was also attacked but survived.
Having been found guilty, Payne’s penalty was death. He has sat on death row for 30 years and is set to be executed in early December.
Was the wrong man convicted?
Multiple organizations that include the Innocence Project, Memphis NAACP, and the Tennessee Black Caucus are teaming with prominent politicians, attorneys, and various advocates to stop the execution. They claim Payne was wrongfully convicted. He only happened upon the crime scene and actually attempted to provide help, not harm.
According to his lawyers, prosecutors painted a different picture during the trial, portraying him as a “hypersexual drug-abusing super predator only looking to victimize a white person.” They counter that Payne has an intellectual disability and cite a Supreme Court ruling that execution would violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The group is asking Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich to test multiple pieces of evidence for DNA. The DA disagrees with the need for testing and sees it as a delay tactic that would stop Payne’s December 3 execution. She cites overwhelming, yet admittedly non-DNA proof that the right person was convicted of the crime. Weirich also believes that the discovery of DNA other than Payne’s would only show that someone may have touched the evidence at some point during the past 30 years.
The Tennessee Black Caucus is also joining in the effort, forming a bipartisan effort and will lobby Governor Bill Lee to commute Payne’s sentence to life without parole while the DNA is undergoing examination.