MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) – Before Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie Jo were brutally stabbed and killed in a Tennessee apartment 34 years ago, their united family loved to come together for a happy reunion on vacation, get together for birthday parties and hang out by a parent’s pool.
These family celebrations have been much less frequent since June 27, 1987, the day the bodies of the victims were found on the floor of their house, soaked in blood. The murders have left the lives of many of Christopher’s relatives in sad and frustrated pieces.
âThere was so much love, and it was taken from us,â said Kathy Hites, Christopher’s sister-in-law. âCharisse had no choice. We had no choice. She is forever with the angels.
Hites was one of three family members of Christopher who made statements Tuesday at a sentencing hearing in the case of Pervis Payne, who had spent more than three decades on death row at the Tennessee for the murders.
Last month, Payne was released from death row when a judge overturned his sentence based on assessments from two experts who determined Payne was intellectually disabled. Lawyers for Payne, 54, had requested that he be assessed for mental retardation.
During a two-day hearing, Shelby County Judge Paula Skahan heard from Payne’s family and friends, guards at the Nashville Maximum Security Prison where he is being held and relatives of Christopher, who was 28 when she was murdered.
Skahan must decide whether Payne will serve the terms consecutively or simultaneously. The distinction is significant. A ruling on which life sentences to serve one after another – or consecutively – would mean Payne would not be eligible for parole until he was at least 85 years old.
If the judge ruled that Payne can serve sentences concurrently – or at the same time – Payne would be eligible for parole in just six years.
Skahan has said she will rule in January.
Payne was convicted by a jury of the murders in the Memphis suburb of Millington. Christopher’s son Nicholas, who was 3 at the time, was also stabbed but survived. All three victims were white.
Payne, who is Black, has always claimed his innocence. He told police he was in Charisse Christopher’s apartment building meeting his girlfriend when he heard Christopher screaming and tried to help him. He said he panicked when he saw a white policeman and ran away.
Trial prosecutors alleged that Payne was high in cocaine and was seeking sex when he stabbed Christopher and his daughter in a “drug-induced frenzy.”
Payne will not be put to death because the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executions of people with intellectual disabilities violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
But until Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill this summer that would retroactive Tennessee law by prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disabilities, the state had no mechanism for an inmate to reopen a case. file to assert a claim for intellectual disability. Payne’s attorneys have said the new law is key to freeing Payne from death row.
On Monday, Payne’s supporters testified that he was a kind and helpful person who enjoyed dancing with his sister, cutting his neighbors’ grass, leading parishioners to the church where his father was pastor, and playing the drums in the church orchestra.
They also testified that Payne had difficulty reading and that he was excused from speaking in class due to his learning difficulties.
On Tuesday, the judge heard from four prison officers on a virtual call from the Riverbend maximum security institution in Nashville. They said Payne worked hard as a janitor in the death row and had no disciplinary issues.
Prosecutor Steve Jones then called those close to Christopher to the witness stand. Jones pleaded for consecutive life sentences, to justify each of the two murders.
But Kelley Henry, Payne’s attorney, said the judge only had to determine if Payne is a danger to society. Henry argued he was not and pointed to statements by Payne’s supporters that they would welcome him to their community.
Christopher’s family accepts consecutive sentences. Angela Johnson, sister of Charisse Christopher, said her life fell apart after the murders and that she was “full of anger, hurt”.
Johnson said the other knife victim, Nicholas, has lived a sad life since the deaths of his mother and sister. He lives alone, does not go out with him and has very few friends, she said.
“He has completely stopped,” Johnson said of his nephew. âYou can always tell there’s a part of him that will never be happy. Never. Not without them.