A death row inmate may be exonerated after DNA evidence suggested his innocence — four years after he was executed.
Ledell Lee, 51, was given a lethal injection on April 20 2017 by the state of Arkansas for the 1993 murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese.
Lee maintained his innocence since his arrest until his death and fought for 12 years to clear his name, pleading with a judge to test DNA found on a shoe to be tested.
Sadly, Lee’s plea for the DNA to be tested was rejected because he took too long to ask for the test and his execution went ahead as scheduled.
His family have not stopped fighting to prove his innocence and in 2020, Lee’s sister filed a lawsuit against the state to test the DNA.
The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory released the result of that test last week, confirming in a statement that Lee’s DNA was not found on the murder weapon.
Another man’s DNA as instead found on the weapon, as well as on a shirt that had been wrapped around the weapon.
The DNA did not match anyone found in the FBI’s national criminal database, but it did suggest what Lee had been saying all along, that he was innocent.
Five sets of fingerprints found at the scene of the crime were also tested and it was found that they did not belong to Lee.
Six hairs from the scene were also tested and The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory concluded Lee was not the source of five of those hairs.
The lab couldn’t exclude Lee as the source of the sixth, although “mitochondrial DNA profiles may be shared by thousands of individuals in a given population,” said the Innocence Project, a foundation working with Lee’s family.
Shortly before his death, Lee told the BBC: “It’s more or less like I’m living in the twilight zone.
“It’s like one of those type of nightmares you can’t wake up from.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, I am an innocent man.”
Lee’s execution was rushed through by the Arkansas Supreme Court as part of a plan to execute eight men to use up injection drugs that were going out of date.
Three men were killed as a result, while a court ordered a stay on another four, and one was granted clemency.
One of the men due to be executed, Stacey Johnson, 47, requested, like Lee, for DNA to be tested to prove his innocence.
The request was not granted but the execution did stay and Johnson is still fighting to exonerate himself for the 1993 murder of Carol Heath in De Queen.