NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation designed to prevent death row inmates with an intellectual disability from being executed. The GOP-supermajority House and Senate passed the bill by wide margins Monday.
Advocates point to inmate Pervis Payne, who attorneys call intellectually disabled as he awaits an execution date. Payne was sentenced to death in the 1987 fatal stabbings of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter.
“I’m just happy we were able to work together with Mr. Payne’s attorney, Kelly Henry, and the National Bar Association to develop the language that we used in the Black Caucus bill and was later adopted into the Hawk bill," Representative Hardaway said in a press release. "Now Mr. Payne will have the opportunity to receive what all Americans have the right to receive: due process. So, we thank Representative Hawk and his partnership with the Black Caucus and we are happy that we were able to contribute in Mr. Payne’s quest for due process.”
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing a person with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional.
However, Tennessee’s Supreme Court later determined there was no procedure for death row inmates to reopen their cases to explore intellectual disability claims.
Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators ruled there is not currently a procedural mechanism to retroactively act on Mr. Payne’s case and urged the legislature to create one.
The TBCSL first urged the Governor to delay Mr. Payne’s execution. After that stay was granted, the Caucus then filed the bill that would enable people to present their intellectual disability claims in state court.
HB1062 was filed by Representative David Hawk of Greenville and co-sponsored by Memphis Representative G. A Hardaway.