For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.
Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.
Patricia Young, Mr. Lee’s sister, has been fighting for years to prove 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 said in a statement last week. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville city officials released the bloody wooden club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, a bloody white shirt wrapped around the club and several other pieces of evidence for testing.
complaint filed by Ms. Young.
Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal 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 said, adding that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He called the new DNA evidence that has emerged “inconclusive.”
In a statement, lawyers from the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project were cautious about stating what, exactly, could be extrapolated from the newly tested DNA from the shirt and the murder weapon — beyond the facts that both samples appeared to belong to the same man and that that man was not Mr. Lee.