Death Penalty

Tennessee Court Refuses To Test DNA Evidence That Could Exonerate a Man the State Already Executed

According to the law, the deceased Sedley Alley is the only person who can file a petition for post-conviction DNA testing.

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A technicality in the law stands in the way of a daughter's attempt to prove that the state of Tennessee put her innocent father to death.

Sedley Alley was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Cpl. Suzanne M. Collins. Collins was jogging in a park near a naval base in Millington when she was abducted. Three witnesses said her abductor was driving a brown station wagon. Alley drove a similar vehicle. He was pulled over and told naval security that he was driving around town and drinking beer the night of the abduction.

Alley was brought in for questioning on the naval base. When the questioning was completed, Alley started his vehicle so he could leave. The witnesses, who happened to be present, said the sound of his car matched the sound of the perpetrator's vehicle.

Collins' mutilated body was discovered the next day and law enforcement arrested Alley.

The Commercial Appeal has more details on Alley's case.

Alley confessed to the murder and led police to the crime scene. However, there are several problems with the state's case. The Innocence Project, a civil liberties group, now believes Alley was coerced into making a false confession by the police. An expert would later testify that police tainted Alley's confession by telling him non-public details about the crime.

The group also notes inconsistencies with the evidence used to convict Alley. The witness description of the suspect did not match Alley's features. Alley's supposed recollection of the crime also did not match up with the details uncovered by investigators. In fact, he repeatedly said that he did not remember committing the crime.

Alley was executed by lethal injection in June 2006. April Alley, his daughter, is now working with the Innocence Project to clear her father's name posthumously.

The Innocence Project has called for testing physical evidence from the case, which includes red underwear believed to be owned by the assailant and stains on Collins' shirt and bra. The group received information about another possible suspect: a man who attended the same training school as Collins. They believe that this man, most recently indicted for homicide and rape in St. Louis, is a serial offender.

In May, April Alley and the Innocence Project filed a petition with the Criminal Court for Shelby County in Memphis, asking the state to DNA test the evidence in her father's case. The petition also asked Gov. Bill Lee (R) to use executive authority to order testing.

On Monday, Judge Paula Skahan dismissed the petition.

Skahan's opinion says that April Alley "does not have standing" as Alley's estate to file a petition for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence held by the state. Skahan's decision rests on Tennessee's Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001, which merely allows "a person convicted of and sentenced for the commission of first-degree murder" to file a petition of this nature.

The cruel irony of this legal predicament is that Alley, who is deceased because of the state's actions, is the only person who has the authority to file a petition asking the state to test the evidence that could exonerate him.

Worse, as the Innocence Project petition explains, Alley previously sought post-conviction testing under the act and was denied due to "a now-reversed and clearly incorrect interpretation" of the 2001 law, which was not cleared up by the Tennessee Supreme Court until 2011.

"I'm heartbroken. Frankly, I'm numb. I'm very grateful for all who have supported me in this effort to find the truth. We will see this through to the end, no matter what it takes," April Alley said in response to the ruling.

The Innocence Project wrote in a statement that it has "already filed a notice of appeal." The group criticized Skahan's ruling, saying, "The petition simply asks for testing of available DNA evidence, which could be done within 30 to 60 days. It will now take months, if not years, to go through the courts to finally get to the truth in this matter."

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  1. I’m not saying this guy was innocent, just that there should be a way to test the DNA evidence even for dead suspects – even if the death was due to execution.

    It would be useful to investigate the “no innocent person has been convicted” talking point by looking into posthumous evidence.

    1. This would also be valuable in cases where the dead guy’s defenders say some other guy did it. DNA could indicate whether there’s anything to such a theory.

    2. Sorry, the talking point I was referring to was “no innocent person has ever been executed.”

      If this is true, DNA could in many instances back up the claim!

    3. I’m pretty certain that the sixteen states which still practice executions have no interest at all in whether someone is innocent.

      If God knows they are innocent, then they will survive the attempted execution. There have certainly been some ‘close calls’. But those have been correctly deemed botched executions. And eliminating the botched executions is precisely the reason to keep practicing them because practice makes perfect.

      No has yet survived a perfect execution. Therefore, no one who is innocent has ever been executed.

    4. In 1992, Roger Keith Coleman was executive for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. With his last words, he proclaimed his innocence:

      An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proven, I hope America will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have.

      It wasn’t until 2006 was a conclusive test comparing his DNA with DNA from the victim’s body.
      Yup, he did it.

    5. The Innocence Project has a really good track record overall.

      Government does not like them because there have been hundreds of innocent persons that have been released. The state usually fights the case reversal all the way.

    6. Easy enough to change the law, just add

      “or their closest related survivor and/or anyone with a confirmed claim on their estate”.

  2. I wonder if its because the state doesn’t want to have to admit they might have got it wrong in their rush to avenge a soldier. Cause there is literally no other reason why they shouldn’t be able to do this.

    1. Maybe the State doesn’t want to open an even bigger can of worms by ignoring an accepted standard for legal standing.

      Talk about something with no end in sight.

      1. It’s an issue of finality. How many appeals is enough? Sedley was executed in 2006, 19 years after being sentenced to death.

        Of course, this is an argument against the death penalty as well – if it takes 19 years to exhaust appeals and establish finality, well, what’s the point really of running that sort of marathon? Just slap him with a life with no possibility of parole and let him appeal for 40 damn years or however long it takes him to die of old age.

    2. No, the article states it is the law, which can be changed, as I detailed

  3. I tell you what: if the state ain’t done nothin’ wrong, well then it ain’t got nothin’ to hide…right?

  4. The state has a right against self-incrimination!

  5. Alternate headline:

    Zuri Butthurt When Court Refuses to Ignore Established Law Governing Standing When It Involves His Pet Project

    1. Standing is necessary to prevent abuse of the system. However, in many cases, standing has been abused to shut people up. In this case, the fact that no living person has standing is clearly absurd. Since the person has no ability to speak for himself, his designated representative (either lawyer of his estate or the next of kin) should be able to speak for him.

      1. which is an easy and responsible change to the law

  6. totally future solved by eliminating state sponsored executions.

    1. Because innocent people in prison survive until they are exonerated?

  7. I get kinda stuck here–

    Alley confessed to the murder and led police to the crime scene.

    I can see the confession getting tainted by what the cops said. But not how they could make him able to lead them to the scene.

    1. If he had it described to him as “the intersection of X and Y” or even that “everyone knows where that gal was murdered”. The people who said that he led them there are the same people that are being accused of fabricating his confession.

    2. If you actually read the details of the case, the police found the body and then arrested him because he had been in the area the night before. The bit about him leading the police to the crime scene is strange, I suspect it comes from a police report that said he knew where the crime had taken place without having been told, which indicated his guilt. (“Did you kill your wife?” “No! I would never shoot my wife!” “Who said she was shot?”) Of course, you’d have to take the cops’ word for it that they did not tell him where the body was found and that he led them to “the crime scene” and not “the corner near where you were spotted last night”.

  8. From what I have read, if he was denied the post-conviction testing back in 2001, and that interpretation was overturned in 2011 (after he was executed) than perhaps that should be reason for a judge to allow his estate to “continue” the case. Although, I don’t even pretend to play a lawyer on TV.
    But, once again, I think the Innocence Project and their fellow travelers are inflating the possible innocence of Alley.
    There seems to be a lot of evidence that Alley was faking the mental health claims. And is there any evidence that his confession was “coerced”? Is there any pattern that the cops involved engaged in this? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t trust the state. But, the jury convicted him and sentenced him to death, and then had a full slate of appeals. And the DNA might provide some doubt. But, then again, it is just as likely it would provide an indeterminate result.

  9. To what end? There is no remedy for this case. Therefore no standing.

    1. The estate administrator has standing to make a claim that the state violated the civil rights of the deceased person.

      It happens against other parties who kill others while driving.

  10. If some live rapist/murderer is running around loose, why not add his DNA to the country’s multiple offender database. Similarly, if the guy was guilty, add his DNA to the same database so it might clear any other similar cases.

    How much could it cost these days for a simple DNA test? If the law is so unclear/vague/silly/stupid, the judge should have offered to pay for it himself.

    1. Nice. How could they say no to that?

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  12. The story is light on explaining how any particular result of the DNA might actually exonerate. DNA is not magic in that it somehow determines guilt all by itself. The fact of a non-match to the defendant, depending on the totality of the circumstance might mean something, or might mean nothing.
    Just like evidence to be offered at the original trial, it has to be probative to the question of guilt/not-guilt. It should not become simply yet another internet meme.

    1. Don’t expect Zuri Davis to understand, address, or discuss any of this. Just like her articles on Cromartie, the relevance and weight of the alleged DNA evidence is an afterthought.

      What would it prove? How would it prove it? Would it exonerate?

      Davis thinks DNA evidence is a crystal ball.

      1. I believe Zuri has covered cases where new DNA testing would not prove who murdered the victim, of which there are many examples.

        Zuri is aware

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