New DNA evidence could prove that a man was wrongly executed for murder, activists say

New development in 1993 murder case might prove innocence of man put to death in 2017

Clara Hill@clara_ish
Wednesday 05 May 2021 18:50
<p>New evidence has emerged in the murder case of Debra Reese that Ledell Lee was executed for after his conviction</p>

New evidence has emerged in the murder case of Debra Reese that Ledell Lee was executed for after his conviction

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Forensic testing has revealed DNA from an unidentified male in the evidence gathered from a 1993 Arkansas murder – four years after another man was executed for the killing, according to legal advocacy groups.

Ledell Lee was put to death in 2017 after being found guilty for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, his neighbour. The new discovery of DNA comes after Lee’s family pushed for more testing of the evidence last year, and lawyers and Jacksonville, Arkansas, authorities obtained new evidence reports, according to The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The two organisations released a joint statement on the new testing and analysis. It states that DNA from another man, along with Lee, was discovered on the established murder weapon, a wooden club. More of the same man’s DNA was uncovered on a shirt, according to the groups.

Senior litigator from The Innocence Project Nina Morrison said Lee wanted this analysis done before he was ultimately executed. Lee protested his conviction and said he was innocent up until his death. The Innocence Project aims to overturn false convictions.

“While the results obtained twenty-nine 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 Lee’s case,” Ms Morrison said in the statement.

She said an investigation surrounding the case “remains open due to the possiblity of a future database ‘hit’ to the unknown male DNA or unknown fingerprints from the crime scene.”

“We are hopeful that one or more of these forensic law enforcement databases will generate additional information for the future,” Morrison said.

According a local CBS station, Lee was arrested about an hour after Reese was murdered in her house. Lee was arrested following reports from neighbours that he had been seen on their street. Lee, a Black man, was the first person put to death in Arkansas in more than 10 years.

The US Congress has made efforts to abolish the death penalty. Represenative Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, has championed legislation to ban the death penalty at the federal level, citing Lee’s case on Twitter as an example of its drawbacks.

Other politicians, such as Arkansas’ governor Asa Hutchinson, have defended Lee’s conviction, saying it came from the “information they had.”

This sentiment was shared by Arkansas’ Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who said to CBS, “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 wth a tire thumper.”