Ledell Lee was executed for murder 4 years ago. Now someone else’s DNA has been found on the murder weapon
Ledell Lee maintained his innocence until the end.
Before he was executed by the state of Arkansas in April 2017, Lee gave some of his last words to the BBC, telling the broadcaster, “My dying words will always be, as it has been: I am an innocent man.”
Now, four years after Lee was put to death for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, attorneys for his family say someone else’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, raising new questions about Lee’s conviction.
“I think if those results had been had before he was executed, he’d still be alive,” Lee Short, who had been Ledell Lee’s attorney, told CNN.
Attorneys representing Lee’s family, including those with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, commissioned DNA testing of the handle of the wooden club that was used to kill Reese.
Last month, they said the results showed the DNA of an unknown man.
That DNA appears to match DNA also found on a bloody white shirt that had been wrapped around the murder weapon, the attorneys said, but it’s unclear if that DNA was from the blood or other biological material like skin cells.
The attorneys also had DNA testing done for six hairs that were found at the crime scene and presented at trial in the state’s case against Lee. The summary says that testing ruled Lee out as a potential source in five of the six hairs.
The Innocence Project previously said in a January 2020 statement that there was “no physical evidence directly (connecting) Lee to Reese’s murder.”
On Friday, the Innocence Project told CNN the results of the DNA testing also did not show an “absolute or conclusive” connection to Lee.
Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said in a statement last month that while the results were “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.”
Morrison said attorneys had entered that DNA in the national DNA database in hopes of identifying the unknown male, but there have been no potential matches.
The DNA was finally tested after attorneys filed a lawsuit in January 2020 on behalf of Lee’s family, seeking to have the DNA samples from the case released. They received the results last month.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Lee’s family, the Innocence Project and the ACLU turned down interview requests from CNN. Lee’s sister, Patricia Young, provided a statement through the Innocence Project, saying this was a “difficult time of year” for the family as they mourned the loss of her brother.
“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,” Young said. “We ask for privacy for our family in this difficult time.”
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