An Arkansas city council has agreed to allow new tests on fingerprint and DNA evidence relating to a man Arkansas executed in 2017.
The Jacksonville City Council voted Friday to allow the new tests on evidence that from Ledell Lee‘s family contends the tests could exonerate Lee of the 1993 slaying of Debra Reese.
This comes after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project asked a state judge to force Jacksonville authorities to release fingerprint tests and DNA they say supports claims convicted murderer Lee was innocent of the murder.
The groups filed the lawsuit on behalf of Patricia Young, Lee’s sister.
Lee insisted to the end that he was innocent of the slaying.
“This lawsuit was always about finding the truth, and we’re glad the Jacksonville City Council has decided to do the right thing and allow this evidence to be tested,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “While nothing can undo the injustice of Ledell Lee’s execution, tonight’s vote is a positive and long-overdue step that could well identify the real perpetrator of the crime. We thank Jacksonville city leaders for standing on the side of openness and hope to receive the court’s approval. Arkansans deserve the truth.”
Lee was the first of four inmates Arkansas executed in 2017 before its supply of a lethal injection drug expired.
The ACLU and Innocence Project joined his case days before he was executed by Arkansas, but were unable to get new testing before his scheduled execution.
The groups at that time identified “serious flaws in the evidence used to convict Lee” and DNA evidence that reportedly belonged to the killer, but was never tested with modern technology.
According to court documents filed Thursday, attorneys for Lee’s family say “no physical evidence directly tied Mr. Lee to the murder of Ms. Reese.”
The lawyers say that crime scene evidence shows that “whoever killed Ms. Reese was not wearing Ledell Lee’s shoes or clothing.” They also say that the shoe pattern on Reese’s cheek does not match the pattern of Lee’s shoes.
“We are grateful that the Jacksonville City Council tonight voted to do this testing,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “This DNA and fingerprint evidence quite possibly holds the key to who killed Debra Reese in 1993. It should have been tested before Ledell was executed. By voting to turn over the evidence for testing now, the Council members have shown that they are earnest in their pursuit of the truth and justice for the citizens of their city. We thank them for their courage.”
Reese was sexually assaulted and murdered in her own home on the morning of Feb. 9, 1993. Police say she was approximately hit “36 times with a tire thumper.”
Lee was arrested about an hour after the murder after witnesses claimed they saw him walking down the street. He was arrested at his mother’s house and Lee’s brother told police that the two went to make a payment at a Rent-A-Center store “shortly before noon.”
In April of 2017, a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge denied a motion set forth by the ACLU, which asked for new DNA testing for Ledell Lee’s case.
If the new testing is granted and concludes that Lee was not responsible for Reese’s murder, it would be the first time an innocent man was executed under Arkansans’s modern death penalty.