photo of ledell lee with officers

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First ever testing of murder evidence reveals DNA does not match executed man’s.

The Arkansas prison system executed Ledell Lee in 2017 for a 1993 murder. The murder in question is that of Debra Reese. Police found Reese, 26, dead in her home. She died from strangulation and blunt force with a wooden bat.

Police arrested Lee after eye witnesses claim they saw him in the neighborhood at the time. Two years later, Lee is convicted of capital murder while maintaining his innocence. Lee would spend the next 22 years on death row.

Questions now surround his April execution after new DNA testing reveals someone else’s DNA on the murder weapon. Lee’s attorneys are working with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union to clear Lee’s name.

Lee’s attorney, Lee Short, said no DNA testing was done pre-conviction even though prosecution said hairs found at the scene belonged to a black person. Additional testing results show five out of six hairs definitively do not match Lee.

Short tried to prevent Lee’s execution with post-conviction appeals. They were denied. Judge Herbert Wright said the testing wouldn’t matter because people saw Lee near the scene. Wright, only citing eye-witness testimony, said Lee’s defense had years to request testing on the evidence.

New DNA test results revealed in April show DNA from an unknown male. These test were ordered in January. Techs also found the DNA on a bloody white T-Shirt that was wrapped around the murder weapon. It’s unclear what the source of the DNA is from.

The Innocence Project states there is no direct physical evidence connecting Lee to Reese’s murder.


lineup of men set to be executed with ledell lee
A lineup of the other men set to be executed along with Lee. Four of them were given a stay of execution, while Lee was not. Photo from PBS

Lee was the first in a line of executions carried out in April of 2017 in Arkansas. These executions were carried out before the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired. However, the judge and prosecution refute the claim that the executions were only carried out because of the expiration date on the drugs.

While Lee’s family is dealing with an emotionally turbulent time, Arkansas officials stand behind their decision to execute Lee. Judge Wright told CNN the evidence “wouldn’t likely change the verdict.”

According to a letter Short wrote, featured on the Innocence Project website, she says Lee spent the last few moments of his life dividing up his property. Lee sifted through his cardboard box holding all his belongings including potato chips, cups, crackers and condiments.

Lee called his family the day of his execution and told them he knows he will get to see them again.

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