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Pervis Tyrone PAYNE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Attempted rape - Drugs
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 27, 1987
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: March 1, 1967
Victims profile: Charisse Christopher, 28, and her daughter, Lacie Jo, 2
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on February 16, 1988

U.S. Supreme Court

Payne v. Tennessee

United States Court of Appeals
For the Sixth Circuit

Pervis T. Payne v. Ricky Bell, Warden

Pervis T. Payne was convicted in Shelby County of killing Charisse Christopher and her daughter, Lacie Jo, in what prosecutors described as a drug-induced frenzy.

Charisse Christopher, age twenty-eight, lived with her two children, Nicholas, age three and one-half, and Lacie, age two and one half, in the Hiwassee Apartments in Millington. Pervis T. Payne’s girlfriend lived in the apartment across the hall from Charisse Christopher’s apartment, and the apartment complex's resident manager lived in the downstairs unit directly below the Christophers.

The building in which the Christophers resided consisted of four units, two upstairs and two downstairs.  Each of the upstairs apartments had back doors in the kitchen that led to an open porch overlooking the back yard.  In the center of the porch was a metal stairway leading to the ground. There was also an inside stairway leading to the ground floor hallway and front entrance to the four-unit building.

On June 27, 1987, Payne visited his girlfriend’s apartment several times in anticipation of their plans to spend the weekend together. However, he found no one at home. On one visit, he left his overnight bag and three cans of Colt 45 malt liquor near the entrance of her apartment.

While waiting for his girlfriend to return, Payne passed the morning and early afternoon injecting cocaine and drinking beer. Later, he and a friend cruised around the area looking at a magazine containing sexually explicit material.

At approximately 3:00 p.m., Payne returned to the Hiwassee Apartment complex and entered Charisse Christopher's apartment. At the same time, the manager heard Charisse screaming, “get out, get out.” The noise briefly subsided and then began, “horribly loud.” The manager called the police after she heard a “blood curdling scream” from the Christophers’ apartment.

A police unit was immediately dispatched to the Hiwassee Apartments. Meanwhile, although the manager noted that the shouting, screaming, and running upstairs had stopped, she heard footsteps go into the bathroom, the faucet turned on, and the sound of someone washing up.

The first police officer arrived at the apartments within minutes of the radio dispatch. Upon arrival, he observed a black man on the second floor landing pick up an object and come down the stairs. The officer encountered Payne as he was leaving the apartment building. He noted that Payne had “blood all over him. It looked like he was sweating blood.”

The officer confronted Payne, who responded, “I’m the complainant.” When the officer asked “What’s going on up there?” Payne struck the officer with the overnight bag, dropped his tennis shoes and started running. The officer pursued him, but Payne outdistanced him and disappeared into another apartment complex.

Inside the Christophers’ apartment, the police encountered a horrifying scene. Blood covered the walls and floor throughout the unit. Charisse and her two children were discovered lying on the kitchen floor. Nicholas, despite abdominal stab wounds that completely penetrated his body, was still breathing. Charisse and Lacie were dead.

Charisse Christopher had sustained forty-two direct knife wounds and forty-two defensive wounds on her arms and hands. The wounds were caused by forty-one separate thrusts of a butcher knife. None of the eighty-four wounds inflicted were individually fatal; rather, the cause of death was most likely bleeding from all of the wounds.

The body of Charisse was found lying on her back with her legs fully extended. Her shorts were pushed up on her legs and a used tampon was found beside the victim’s lifeless body. Lacie’s body was on the kitchen floor near her mother. She had suffered nine stab wounds to the chest, abdomen, back, and head. One of the wounds cut the aorta and would have been rapidly fatal.

The murder weapon, a butcher knife, was found at her feet. Payne’s baseball cap was recovered from Lacie’s forearm - her hand and forearm sticking through the opening between the adjustment strap and the cap material. Three cans of Colt 45 malt liquor, bearing Payne’s fingerprints, were found on a small table in the living room. A fourth empty beer can was on the landing outside the apartment door. Payne’s fingerprints were also found on the telephone and counter in the Christophers’ kitchen.

Payne was apprehended later that day hiding in the attic of the home of a former girlfriend. As he descended the stairs of the attic, he stated, “Man, I ain’t killed no woman.” One of the arresting officers remarked that Payne had a “wild look about him. His pupils were contracted. He was foaming at the mouth, saliva. He appeared to be very nervous. He was breathing real rapid.”

Payne had blood on his body and clothes and several scratches across his chest. He also was wearing a gold Helbrose wristwatch that had bloodstains on it. It was later determined that the blood types found on Payne’s clothing matched the victims’ blood types. A search of his pockets revealed a packet containing cocaine residue, a hypodermic syringe wrapper, and a cap from a hypodermic syringe. His overnight bag, which was found in a nearby dumpster, contained a bloody white shirt.

A woman who was visiting her sister in the same apartment complex that Saturday afternoon was sunbathing in the back yard and heard a noise like a person moaning coming from the Christophers’ apartment followed by the back door slamming three or four times, “but it didn’t want to shut. And this hand, a dark-colored hand with a gold watch, kept trying to shut that back door.”

The medical examiner testified that Charisse was menstruating and a specimen from her vagina tested positive for acid phosphatase. He said that result was consistent with the presence of semen, but not conclusive, absent sperm, and no sperm was found.

At trial, Payne took the stand on his own behalf. He testified that he did not harm any of the Christophers. Rather, he asserted that another man had raced by him as he was walking up the stairs. When he reached the landing, he heard a baby crying and a faint call for help and saw the door was ajar. He stated that, motivated by curiosity, he announced that he was coming in, and entered the apartment.

He described what he saw as follows: I saw the worst thing I ever saw in my life and like my breath just had--had tooken--just took out of me. . . . she was looking at me. She had the knife in her throat with her hand on the knife like she had been trying to get it out and her mouth was just moving but words had faded away. And I didn’t know what to do. He explained that he got blood on his clothes and his person when he pulled the knife out of Charisse’s neck and . . . “she reached up and grabbed me and hold me . . .” Payne panicked and fled when he heard the police sirens.

During the State’s cross-examination, Payne made the following admission: Q. Can you explain why there’s bloodstains on your left leg? A. Left leg? Q. Yes, sir. A. Evidently it probably came--had to come from when she--when she hit the wall. When she reached up and grabbed me. Q. When she hit the wall? A. When she--when she hit--when she hit when I got ready to run up--when I got ready to vomit. Q. When she hit the wall she got blood on you? A. When she splashed. It was blood--a lot of blood on the floor. Q. She got blood on you when she hit the wall. Is that what you said? A. She hit against the wall when she fell back. Q. Is that what you said, sir, that she got blood on you when she hit the wall? A. I didn’t say she got blood on me when she hit the wall. Q. Isn’t that what you said just a moment ago, sir? A. That ain’t--that’s not what I said.

The jury returned guilty verdicts against Payne on all counts. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Payne presented the testimony of four witnesses. Payne's girlfriend testified that she met Payne at church and stated that he was a very caring person, and that he devoted much time and attention to her three children. She said that her three children had come to love him very much. She asserted that Payne did not drink, nor did he use drugs, and that it was inconsistent with Payne’s character to have committed these crimes.

A clinical psychologist testified that Payne’s IQ scores were verbal IQ 78 and performance IQ 82. Historically, the “mental retardation” score is considered 75. Based upon these scores, the doctor found Payne “mentally handicapped,” but not “retarded.” He also stated that Payne was the most polite prisoner he had ever met.

Payne’s parents testified that their son, who was twenty years old, had no prior criminal record and had never been arrested. They also stated that Payne had no history of alcohol or drug abuse, he worked with his father as a painter, he was good with children, and he was a good son. The State presented the testimony of Charisse Christopher’s mother, who related the emotional trauma that the double murders had on Nicholas and how he continues to cry for his mother and sister.

The jury found, as to both the murder of Charisse Christopher and Lacie Christopher, that Payne knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victim murdered during his act of murder and that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel in that it involved torture or depravity of mind. As to the murder of Lacie Christopher, the jury found that the murder was committed against a person less than twelve years of age and Payne was eighteen years of age or older. Finding no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to outweigh the statutory aggravating circumstances, the jury sentenced Payne to death on each of the murder counts.


Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) was a United States Supreme Court case on criminal law, which held that testimony on the form of a victim impact statement was admissible, thus overruling two of that courts' precedents in the case of Booth v. Maryland. It held that stare decisis could be disregarded where fairness to Victim's rights had priority over the demands of consistency in the common law. Such statements could be allowed during the sentencing phase of a trial and the admission of these statements in death penalty cases did not violate the Constitution. The case had an enormous impact, as it recognized that victims had rights in criminal cases in the United States.


Pervis Tyrone Payne was the defendant in this trial prosecuted in Tennessee. On Saturday, June 27, 1987, after drinking malt liquor, taking cocaine, and reading pornography, he attempted to rape an acquaintance of his, Charisse Christopher, and finally he murdered her and her 2-year-old daughter. Neighbors heard noises and yelling, and called the police. Upon arriving, a police officer "immediately encountered Payne who was leaving the apartment building, so covered in blood that he appeared to be 'sweating blood'".

The police found "a horrifying scene." 42 stab wounds were on Charisse's body. He had stabbed her 3-year-old son Nicholas dozens of times. He ran away to his girlfriend's house, and discarded his clothes, which were soaked in blood. Meanwhile, Nicholas Christopher held in his intestines while the emergency medical technicians transported him to the emergency room. There was significant physical evidence implicating the defendant: Payne's fingerprints on cans of malt liquor, the victims' blood soaked into his clothes, and his property left at the scene of the crime.

Dozens of witnesses, including the police, friends, the neighbors, and experts, testified at the trial. The evidence that he perpetrated the attacks was "overwhelming," according to Chief Justice Rehnquist. Payne denied the charges, claiming he came upon the bloody victims. The DA stressed, in his closing arguments, the senselessness of the killings, the violence displayed by the defendant, and the innocence of the victims. The jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and a related charge.

At the sentencing phase, the judge allowed both the public defender to adduce mitigating testimony from the defendant's friends and family, and the district attorney (DA) to introduce evidence from the grandmother/mother of the victims. Payne appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and then asked for a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court. Cert was granted, with the court noting that it would have to reconsider its past precedent. The case was argued on April 24, 1991 and decided on June 27, 1991.

Issues and holding

The main issue in the case was whether damaging testimony in the form of a victim impact questioning could be admissible in the sentencing phase of an otherwise fair state trial. Subsidiary to that were the issues of whether admission of these statements in a death penalty case violated the Constitution; and Whether the U.S. Supreme Court was bound by the doctrine of stare decisis to follow its prior cases.

The defendant's guilt or innocence was not in issue at this hearing, as only the legal issues of admissibility of evidence, the victims' rights, and stare decisis were to be decided. The Court legally presumed that Payne was, in fact, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which was, in any case, not on appeal in that instance.

The court held that testimony on the form of a victim impact statement was admissible and constitutional in death penalty cases, thus overruling two of that courts' precedents, in that stare decisis could be disregarded where fairness to the victim's rights had priority over the demands of consistency.

It specifically overruled its prior cases of Booth v. Maryland (1987) and South Carolina v. Gathers (1989).


The court's decision stated a number of strands of reasons for its rationale in deciding this case:

  1. The sentencer has the right to consider all relevant evidence, with the rules of evidence.

  2. The principle that punishment should fit the crime is relevant here, and this was a particularly aggravated and savage murder.

  3. That stare decisis is "not an inexorable command", and the Supreme Court, since Marbury v. Madison (1803) has decided what the law is.

  4. Since the defendant has certain rights, so should the victims.

  5. The trial was fair in all respects, and mitigating evidence ought to be presented with damaging evidence when available.

Three Justices dissented: John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry Blackmun.


Payne has had a significant, ongoing impact in victim's rights, criminology, the law, the Court itself, and the lives of the parties involved.

The case allowed victim impact statements in US courts, and the overwhelming majority of states now allow such use in the sentencing phase of trials. The whole area of victim's rights was boosted by this case. One scholar recently wrote:

Among the most significant products of the Victim's Rights Movement over the past decade has been the revival of the use of victim impact evidence—evidence relating to the victim's personal characteristics and the emotional impact of the crime on others--during capital sentencing. With its decision in Payne v. Tennessee (1991), the US Supreme Court not only reversed its own recent precedent holding such evidence to be unconstitutional, it left only a vague and malleable standard for limiting its admissibility.

—Joel F. Donahue

Another scholar calls the verdict in Payne an example of "symbolic violence." It was pointed out that:

Rehnquist's reliance on this image of the perpetrator as a rabid animal that is foaming at the mouth helps to justify the violence of Payne's death sentence while it also obscures that violence. The majority opinion in Payne, like the prosecutor's arguments before the jury, hinges on contrasting little Nicholas to Pervis Payne, juxtaposing Nicholas's smallness and vulnerability to Payne's murderous and inhuman power. The smaller and more innocent the victim, the stronger and more guilty the defendant appears.

—Jennifer K. Wood

The case was one in a line of cases that showed how the Rehquist Court shifted to the conservative or "right" on criminal cases. The case is cited by at least one major college text book as a "capstone case."

Payne's execution was stayed in April 2007, and after protracted litigation, again scheduled in December 2007, and stayed again that month. Payne is still alive as of January 2010 and is on death row for the double homicide.


Pervis Tyrone Payne



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