For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of homicide.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview printed on April 19, 2017 — the day earlier than officers in Arkansas administered the deadly injection.
Four years later, legal professionals affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic materials on the homicide weapon — which was by no means beforehand examined — actually belongs to a different man. In a extremely uncommon growth for a case during which a individual has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a nationwide felony database in an try and determine the thriller man.
Patricia Young, Mr. Lee’s sister, has been combating for years to show that it was not her brother who strangled and fatally bludgeoned the 26-year-old Debra Reese in Jacksonville, Ark., a suburb of Little Rock, in 1993.
“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,” Ms. Young mentioned in a assertion final week. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville metropolis officers launched the bloody picket membership recovered from the sufferer’s bed room, a bloody white shirt wrapped round the membership and several other different items of proof for testing.
The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. have pushed for extra DNA testing at earlier instances, together with the eve of Mr. Lee’s execution. The request was denied. A federal choose rejected Mr. Lee’s request for a keep of the execution, saying that he had “simply delayed too long,” in line with a complaint filed by Ms. Young.
Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in additional than a decade. Some accused the state of dashing Mr. Lee and several other different prisoners to their deaths that month earlier than the expiration of its provide of a deadly injection drug.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended Mr. Lee’s execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he mentioned, including that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He referred to as the new DNA proof that has emerged “inconclusive.”
In a assertion, legal professionals from the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project had been cautious about stating what, precisely, might be extrapolated from the newly examined DNA from the shirt and the homicide weapon — past the information that each samples appeared to belong to the identical man and that that man was not Mr. Lee.
“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,” Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, mentioned in the assertion, which The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Uploading this newly generated profile to a nationwide felony database maintained by the F.B.I. has not but offered a “hit,” she mentioned. That signifies that the thriller man’s DNA doesn’t match any of the DNA profiles which are already in the database, taken from individuals who had been convicted or arrested on suspicion of 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,” legal professionals for the A.C.L.U., the Innocence Project and Ms. Young mentioned in a joint assertion.
According to the Innocence Project, no bodily proof was ever produced that linked Mr. Lee to Ms. Reese’s homicide. In a summary of the case, the group additionally outlined obstacles that Mr. Lee had confronted over the years, together with a lawyer who was drunk and unprepared at courtroom hearings, unreliable neighborhood eyewitnesses and conflicts of curiosity for key gamers.
Mr. Lee’s first trial resulted in a hung jury. His second homicide trial started on Oct. 10, 1995, simply seven days after O.J. Simpson had been acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
“Mr. Lee, a Black man 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,” Ms. Young argued in her January lawsuit. “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.”
Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas lawyer common, mentioned on Thursday that she was not swayed by the new developments.
“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,” she mentioned in a assertion, including, “I am prayerful that Debra’s family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017.”
Along with offering new DNA outcomes, Ms. Young’s petition pushed the metropolis of Jacksonville to match fingerprints from the crime scene to a state and nationwide fingerprint database for the first time. It has lengthy been established that Mr. Lee’s fingerprints didn’t match any of these at the scene.
The ensuing search towards the nationwide database didn’t present a match, in line with the Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U., however the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has not but searched the state database. If that search occurs and a fingerprint match emerges, then the legal professionals will push to match that individual’s DNA to the thriller man’s, they mentioned.