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New Tennessee bill aims to stop execution of people with intellectual disabilities

Legislation concept. Old brass weight scale and ancient books under beam of light on dark background

A new proposed bill filed in the Tennessee House Wednesday would allow people with intellectual disabilities who have been sentenced to death a chance to prove their disability and that they should not be executed.

The bill is meant to fix a glitch in the legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing a person with an intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and Tennessee has its own law forbidding the execution of the inmates with intellectual disabilities.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who sponsored the bill, says the legislation was inspired by Pervis Payne, a Black man who has spent more than three decades on death row for a crime he says he did not commit. His execution is scheduled for next month.

Payne was sentenced to death in a Memphis court for the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo. Christopher’s son, Nicholas, who was 3 at the time, also was stabbed but survived.

“Intellectual disability is real, and, merely because of a procedural issue, we are on the verge of murdering Mr. Pervis Payne and not allowing him the opportunity to seek justice,” said Hardaway.

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