Have you heard of Pervis Payne? He is a Black man with an intellectual disability who has been on death row for over 33 years. All the while, he has maintained his innocence. At the age of 20, he was convicted of killing a white woman and her child in a county with a deeply entrenched history of racism. 

The investigation and trial were conducted sloppily. Many key pieces of evidence were lost, including fingernail clippings of the victim. Additionally, DNA evidence in the case was never tested. The prosecution heavily relied on racial stereotypes, such as highlighting the victim’s white skin and depicting Pervis as a drug-using hypersexual man, even though he had no history of using drugs or prior run-ins with the law and was described as kind and caring. 

He was scheduled to die on Dec. 3, 2020, until mass public outcry prompted the governor of Tennessee to delay his execution until April 9. A warrant was obtained to test DNA evidence found at the crime scene, and the results came back on Jan. 19. The places that Pervis’ DNA was found lined up exactly with his testimony at the trial. Pervis claimed he came upon the apartment, saw the bloody scene, and panicked. He said he tried to help them, but it was too late. Notably, Pervis’ DNA was not found on the handle of the murder weapon, a knife. However, another man’s DNA was found both on the murder weapon and a pair of glasses at the crime scene. 

On Jan. 25, a judge dismissed the petition for DNA testing. Pervis is still fighting for his life. It is our duty to help him. Even at 14, I see that just one individual has the power to do radical good. Mass outcry has saved Pervis’ life before, and it can again.

Maya Kappe, Oak Park

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