Black Caucus files legislation to protect disabled from death sentence

Chairman G.A. Hardaway delivering the bill to prevent the death sentence for the intellectually disabled.

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators along with members of the Pervis Payne legal team and concerned clergy including Bishop David Hall, Bishop Brandon Porter and Rev. LaSimba Gray held a press conference Wednesday to discuss new legislation to protect people who are intellectually disabled from being unjustly sentenced to death.

“We have filed the bill for the 112th Tennessee General Assembly that will provide a path through the judicial system for Mr. Pervis Payne and others who are similarly intellectual disabled to pursue justice,” said Black Caucus Chairman G.A. Hardaway.

The legislation was filed in the wake of the scheduled execution of Tennessee death row inmate Pervis Payne in December. Payne is an African American man with an intellectual disability who was convicted of the 1987 murder of a White woman and her daughter in Millington.

Attorneys for Payne have presented evidence including educational records, expert findings and administered tests that show he has an IQ in the intellectually disabled range and significant neuro-cognitive impairments.

In 2002, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court says there is currently not a procedural mechanism to act on Mr. Payne’s case and urged the legislature to create one.

As a result, TBCSL Chair G. A. Hardaway filed legislation that would enable people like Payne to present their intellectual disability claims in state court. Chairman Hardaway said it was important for this bill (HB0001) to be the first bill filed on the first day possible for the 2021 legislative session.

“The importance of this legislation speaks for itself and that’s why we are making sure that it is the first piece of legislation filed for consideration,” said Hardaway. “The execution of a mentally disabled citizen as defined in Tennessee Code Annotated is unconstitutional and akin to state sponsored murder. The heartbreaking part is the fact that this legislation will not be heard until after the scheduled execution date for Mr. Payne.”

“I would like to express our deep and profound gratitude for taking up this cause,” said one of Payne’s attorneys, Kelley Henry. “The filing of the bill represents a victory for Democracy.

“This bill stands to save the life of Pervis Payne, though he is intellectual disable and though it is illegal for him to be executed under U.S. law. It will prohibit the unconstitutional taking of a life.”

The TBCSL has also sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee asking him to commute the sentence of Mr. Payne.

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