Tennessee governor grants temporary reprieve to death row inmate over Covid-19 concerns

Pervis Payne has been on death row more than three decades.

(CNN)Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has granted a death row inmate a temporary reprieve from execution "due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," a statement from Lee's office said Friday.

Pervis Payne's execution had previously been scheduled for December 3, according to the governor's reprieve. It is now set for April 9, 2021.
Payne received two death sentences after he was convicted in 1988 of two counts of first-degree murder for the June 1987 stabbing deaths of 28-year-old Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter in the Memphis suburb of Millington. Payne also was convicted of assault with intent to commit first-degree murder of Christopher's 3-year-old son, who survived.
      "Governor Lee was right to delay Pervis Payne's execution due to the Covid-19 crisis. Bringing witnesses into the prison is unsafe for them, the staff, and the prisoners," said Kelley Henry, Payne's attorney, in a statement.
        In September, a judge ruled that evidence in the case can be tested for the first time for DNA.
          The motion filed by Pervis's lawyers with the Innocence Project asks for the knife, bloody clothing, and some bloody objects from the crime scene to be DNA tested.
          Payne, 53, maintains that he is innocent and went into Christopher's apartment after hearing a cry for help, according to court documents. He said he pulled the murder weapon, a butcher knife, from her neck, the documents say.
          "This additional time will also allow us to investigate Mr. Payne's strong innocence claim, together with the Innocence Project," Henry said.
          This is the second execution that Lee, a Republican, has delayed because of the coronavirus.
            In July, he issued a temporary reprieve Harold Wayne Nichols, a convicted murderer who'd been scheduled to die August 4. Nichols is now scheduled to be executed December 31.
            Also in July, a federal judge postponed the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, a convicted killer who had been set to be the first federal inmate executed in over 17 years. The family of Lee's three victims said they were medically vulnerable to the coronavirus and argued that traveling to Indiana to witness the execution would place them at risk.