DNA Evidence Clears Executed Man Who Spent 22 Years Insisting He Was Innocent Of Murder
Four years after Ledell Lee was executed, the DNA of another individual has been found on a weapon involved in the murder he was charged with.
The death penalty draws criticism for being too severe and enabling irreparable miscarriages of justice. There are now claims that this has been the case for Ledell Lee, who maintained his innocence until he was killed by lethal injection in 2017. The weapon that was used in the crime that led to Lee’s death penalty has been found not to have his fingerprints on it at all, instead, someone else’s prints are on it.
Before he was killed Ledell Lee told the BBC, ‘My dying words will always be, as it has been, I am an innocent man.’ The new evidence uncovered may just prove this to be the case.
Debra Reese was murdered in 1993 and had been strangled and beaten with a small wooden bat that her husband had given her for protection. Several of Reese’s neighbours claimed they saw Lee enter the house but there had been a lack of physical evidence.
The DNA evidence on the weapon has now been found to belong to someone else, casting doubt on the guilt of Lee. Speaking about this, Patricia Young, Mr Lee’s sister, who had long maintained his innocence said that ‘we are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database’ she added that they ‘remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future.’
Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, explained to The Washington Post how this evidence adds to the case:
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.
On top of these DNA findings, there had been previous claims that the initial trial had not been correctly conducted. The judge involved in the case was said to have ‘concealed his own conflict of interest: an affair with the assistant prosecutor.’ Furthermore, the original trial was said to of ignored Lee’s intellectual disability.
Despite these issues in the trial, Governor Asa Hutchinson has defended the execution of Lee at a news conference. ‘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.’ Hutchinson also noted that the new DNA evidence was ‘inconclusive.’ Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general also echoed this sentiment, describing Lee’s previous claims as ‘frivolous.’
Opinion is evidently divided about Lee’s innocence. However, the use of DNA technology may provide clarity. With that in mind, many will be interested in seeing how this case continues to develop almost 30 years later and after Lee received the death penalty.
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CreditsBBC and 3 others
The Washington Post
The New York Times