DNA linked to a 1993 murder does not match the executed Ledell Lee.
Calls for ending the death penalty are nothing new.
However, those calls might have gotten louder after DNA evidence showed that Ledell Lee was executed in 2017 in Arkansas for a crime that he might not have committed.
In an interview published April 19, 2017, the day before his death, Lee told the BBC, “My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man.’”
For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained his innocence.
Unfortunately, it was not until four years after his execution that many people took his words seriously.
The New York Times reported, “Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon—which was never previously tested—in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.”
Ledell Lee got convicted of strangling and bludgeoning Debra Reese, 26, to death in Jacksonville, Ark. in 1993.
Jacksonville, Ark. is a suburb of Little Rock, Ark.
For years, Lee’s sister Patricia Young has fought to clear her brother’s name.
In a statement, Young said, “We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future.”
The New York Times reported, “In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville city officials released the bloody wooden club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, a bloody white shirt wrapped around the club and several other pieces of evidence for testing.
“The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. have pushed for additional DNA testing at previous times, including the eve of Mr. Lee’s execution. The request was denied. A federal judge rejected Mr. Lee’s request for a stay of the execution, saying that he had ‘simply delayed too long,’ according to a complaint filed by Ms. Young.”
When the state of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on April 20, 2017, he was the first man to be executed in the state in 10 years.
Many Arkansas residents accused the state of trying to rush the execution of Ledell Lee and other inmates that month before the expiration of their supply of lethal injection doses.
Nevertheless, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson defended the execution of Ledell Lee.
He said, “It’s my duty to carry out the law…the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.”
Gov. Hutchinson called the new DNA evidence that would possibly exonerate the late Lee, “inconclusive.”
The Innocence Project and A.C.L.U. appeared cautious about what the DNA evidence means to the case.
However, both organizations said that the DNA from the shirt and murder weapon both belong to the same man and that man is not Lee.
In a statement, Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said, “While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case.”
Morrison said that the new DNA profile has not resulted in a “hit,” which means the DNA profile does not match anyone in the national database, taken from people convicted or arrested for alleged violent crimes.
“However, the DNA profile will now remain in the database and will be automatically compared to all new profiles from convicted persons, arrestees or unsolved crimes that are entered in the future,” the lawyers for the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project said in a joint statement.
The Innocence Project said that no physical evidence was ever presented in Ledell Lee’s case that connected him to Reese’s murder.
Furthermore, the group said that Ledell Lee had the burden of having his lawyer appear drunk in court, unreliable witnesses from the neighborhood and key players with conflicts of interest.
Additionally, Young said that her brother’s case happened at the wrong time for an African-American defendant, because former Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson had recently been acquitted of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, who happened to be White.
Lee’s first trial ended in a hung jury.
However, his second trial began just seven days after the Simpson acquittal on Oct. 10, 1995.
In her lawsuit, Lee’s sister said. “Mr. Lee, a Black man was charged with the vicious beating and murder of a White woman in her home, was tried under the shadow of the O.J. Simpson prosecution and trial.
“The Simpson verdict shocked and angered many White Americans and polarized the nation along racial lines. It’s difficult to imagine that any jury could be truly objective in considering the evidence against Mr. Lee at that particular moment in time.”
However, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that the new developments in the case have not swayed her opinion of Lee’s guilt.
In a statement, Rutledge said, “The courts consistently rejected Ledell Lee’s frivolous claims because the evidence demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper. I am prayerful that Debra’s family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017.”