They gave him a lethal injection for the murder of his neighbor; new DNA tests would show that he was innocent as he always said
He was charged with the rape and murder of his 26-year-old neighbor. Still, the murder weapon only showed the genetic material of another man.
The Ledell Lee case has caused outrage and brought the judicial system under scrutiny after DNA samples pointed to another culprit four years after his execution.
On April 20, 2017, the state of Arkansas executed death row inmate Ledell Lee in his first death sentence in more than a decade, which occurred in 2005.
The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear five last-minute appeals from Lee's lawyers to uphold his execution, which began at 11:44 a.m. CT Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 a.m.
Lee, 51, was sentenced to death in October 1995 in Pulaski County, Arkansas, for the murder of Debra Reese, 26, in his apartment.
The DNA found on the handle of a bloody club used in the 1993 murder of Debra Reese belongs to an unknown man.
Nina Morrison, a lawyer for the Innocence Project, said the results of the newly discovered DNA proved to be incomplete and partial but said it was important and left the door open for further results.
In his case, the genetic material found in the murder weapon in a shirt, in which he was referring to a man and another unknown person at the time, has been cited.
In addition to the DNA tests, fingerprints were found that could not be identified either. The genetic material was revealed after a lawsuit filed by Lee's family a year ago.
Lee was also charged with three sexual assaults and one homicide during the court process, but the murder and one of the assault cases were dismissed.
The Innocence Project listed the long list of irregularities in the case:
No concrete proof undeviatingly linked Lee to Reese's murder.
During Lee's trial, the state argued that the hair from the crime scene was "microscopically consistent" with Lee's hair based on a visual examination by his expert. Still, this forensic method has since been discredited. Only DNA testing can scientifically determine the actual source of the hair.
Although DNA evidence can help prove Lee's innocence and help the state identify the real culprit at any cost, the court did not allow Lee to hear new evidence or allow DNA evidence before he was hanged. Refused, arguing that the request was too late.
Fingerprints in key areas of the crime scene were determined not to be from Ledell Lee and, to this day, have never been identified. None of Lee's attorneys had independently examined the crime scene fingerprints before his execution. It turns out that at least five fingerprints are eligible to be searched in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System database, which could identify the source in a matter of hours.
Lee's post-conviction attorney was living with a substance use disorder and admitted to being intoxicated during several of Lee's hearings; he had trouble presenting a defense and adequately arguing the evidence of Lee's innocence. Due to his overwhelming workload, his attorney tried to withdraw from Lee's case but was denied. He also requested support, repeatedly requesting the appointment of a deputy attorney, but was again denied. He supported the continued investigation into Lee's case and has urged the courts to allow the evidence.
Lee had two trials: the first resulted in a jury hanging after the jury heard numerous alibi witnesses whose testimony suggested that he could not have committed the crime. However, at his second trial, the defense inexplicably did not call any alibi witnesses. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Lee was one of eight people scheduled to be executed over the same 11-day period because Arkansas' supply of lethal injection drugs was about to expire. Four of those people received deferrals of execution; Lee was not one of them.
It is estimated that 4% of defendants sentenced to death are wrongly sentenced; In the last 44 years, 167 innocent people have been exonerated from death row. More than 20 of those people were released using DNA tests similar to those requested today on Lee's behalf.
Once the samples were made public, relatives and defenders have asked the authorities to avoid executions when there is the slightest possibility that a person is innocent.