Death Penalty

He Was Executed for Murder. New DNA Evidence Implicates Someone Else.

Ledell Lee was put to death in 2017 for a killing he likely didn't commit.


"I'm not going to say I have come to terms with the state trying to take my life," Ledell Lee told the BBC in 2017, as his execution date neared. "Because I have not, nor will I ever come to terms."

Lee is now gone: The state of Arkansas killed him on April 20, 2017, for his alleged role in the 1993 murder of Debra Reese. And now DNA evidence found on the murder weapon implicates a different man.

Bafflingly, that evidence—located on a blood-spattered white shirt and wooden club, the latter of which was used to beat Reese to death—was not tested before the trial.

"At least two of the witnesses who testified failed to identify Lee either in a police lineup or at the trial," wrote Zuri Davis for Reason in 2020. "Meanwhile, Lee had to contend with deeply inadequate court-appointed lawyers. One was struggling with addiction, another eventually surrendered his license after suffering from mental illness, others had conflicts of interest, and all of them failed to investigate his claim of innocence. Though prosecutors used merely circumstantial evidence to tie him to the murder, Lee's lawyers did not consult with forensics experts and never even asked for DNA testing."

After the guilty verdict came down against Lee, that changed. Lawyers for the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought several times to test that evidence. But Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushed to expedite the proceedings, as the doses were running up against their expiration date.

"It's my duty to carry out the law," said Hutchison last week. "The fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had."

Reese was murdered in Jacksonville, Arkansas, shortly after calling her mother to tell her that a black man had knocked on her door to ask for tools. She was found dead shortly afterward, bludgeoned with the club and left on the floor of her home, her body partially covered by a rug when police came.

Lee was arrested two days later. Two tiny blood samples gathered on his shoes were inconclusive; a sample found on his jacket came back negative for both his and Reese's DNA. The state omitted the second and introduced the former, notwithstanding the fact that investigators could not even derive a blood type from the minuscule samples.

The evidence gathered by the ACLU and the Innocent Project both point to the same male. It doesn't match a sample yet recorded on the national criminal database, so it is not clear who that person is. But one thing is clear: It isn't Ledell Lee.

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Death Penalty DNA ACLU Arkansas Criminal Justice

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39 responses to “He Was Executed for Murder. New DNA Evidence Implicates Someone Else.

  1. What difference, at this point, does it make?

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    2. 1. We can learn from it and maybe not repeat the same mistake.
      2. Post-execution exoneration is not justice but it can be a small step in the right direction.

      1. and of course
        3. The real murderer is still out there.

        1. Well yeah, but the same holds true for the murderer of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. OJ is still working hard to find the real killers, though admittedly not from a golf cart these days.

      2. Not exonerated. They simply found his accomplice.

        1. Idiotic comment. The point is there is no blood evidence to place Lee at the crime scene. The victim was beaten to death with a club, everyone at the scene would gotten lots of blood on them.

    3. I know there is a lot of sarcasm on this site, so I must ask: IS THIS A SERIOUS QUESTION?

  2. Just because they didn’t find his DNA doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. /s

    1. They found an accomplice. That doesn’t mean he is innocent.

  3. Can we execute the state of Arkansas metaphorically? Make them have to pick a new identity. Arkansas was put to death for the murdering an innocent man. Say hello to the new state.

    1. Sure. While we’re at it, Let’s do the same to collectivist philosophy for the murder of a few hundred million.

      Here’s a new way to think…

    2. Innocent is a big word. Perhaps he would be found not guilty today, but that’s a long way from innocent.

      I’m not a fan of any death penalty, but just looking at it from the perspective of a general skeptic of bullshit journalism, I always question late claims that are conveniently ‘too late for justice’, just as I do when “victims” come forward 30 years later at politically opportune times and when there’s a shot at a book deal. This crime was ’93 and the trial in ’95. Since then, 21 years lapsed prior to execution, but nobody ever thought to check DNA till after he will killed? Bullshit.

      Second, typical of Billion Binion, his other big pile of steaming bullshit journalism is suggesting that “not asking for DNA” at the time of the trial proves incompetency. Yes, in today’s world, possibly or even probably. What Billy ignores or is probably just ignorant of is that DNA was hardly a standard back in ’95, it required about 10,000 X the volume of evidence required today to get a result, it took several months, not hours to come up with results, and it was exceedingly expensive, unlike today. The OJ Simpson trial was about that time and if I recall correctly, the State spent several hundred thousand to get those results. And the results were not even considered conclusive by the general public back then.

      Instead and per usual, Billy doesn’t annoy himself or the reader with even asking basic questions or educating himself of basic facts. He just throws out some stuff in such as way as to give a willing reader the suggestion that it mighta coulda been possibly unfair.

      1. Again, there is a basdic saying that you do not ask a question during trail that you do not know the answer to.

        This principle applies to DNA evidence. Do not seek a DNA test unless you know the answer.

      2. The other problem with the DNA argument is that people try to use it to invalidate existing evidence. Not having DNA at the crime scene doesn’t mean you weren’t there or didn’t do it. It’s just more evidence to be considered.

        I appreciate re-examining court cases when the most severe punishment is used, but this is really just a symptom piece. There has to be some sort of finality in court proceedings. We all know that once the death penalty is shelved, they’re coming for life sentences next. It’s a slippery slope, but it’s true.

      3. They requested a stay of execution to have time to get DNA evidence from crime scene tested but we’re denied. His prior lawyers never requested DNA testing. The Innocence Project and ACLU only joined his defense a couple of weeks before the scheduled execution.

    3. This article is really shitty. Binion is incompetent. The story is less about Ledell Lee than it is about Arkansas. They last executed someone in 2005 because they have had a string of legal issues re finding the drugs for lethal injection and being injoined by companies that produce those drugs that don’t want them used for execution. The state decided to rush 8 executions forward in April 2017 before some supplies (bought under false pretenses as well) expired. Pretty fucking sure ‘due process’ is thrown out the door when the state is executing people because they are in a hurry for a photo op over a dead guy.

      Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas AG should certainly be executed. And since this particular case made it to the Supreme Court – you can add Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch (the five who rejected all appeals for a stay – Lee was executed a couple hours later) to the list of those who deserve the death penalty here.

      Since that won’t happen, let’s hope they are religious and face the wrath of God. Or Dante – where it appears the above are in the ninth circle of hell; those involved in the original case are in the eighth circle, and Ledell Lee (even assuming he is guilty) is in the seventh circle.

  4. Does it count if he had Reese’s blood on his shoes?

    Or that he paid a debt at a rent-to-own with one of the hundred dollar bills that Reese’s father had given her? Ooh, ooh, I know, how about the other three women who testified at his trial that he violently raped them? Lee v. State, 942 S.W.2d 231 (Ark. 1997)

    Stop taking the word of violent pieces of shit that they’re innocent.

    Don’t listen to me: go read more about Ledell Lee. See if what you find changes your mind.

    1. Once again, the issue here isn’t whether Ledell Lee was a saint or not. He very clearly wasn’t. The issue is whether he was guilty of the crime for which he was convicted and executed. If he wasn’t guilty of that crime, then he shouldn’t have been executed for it. Maybe he should have been convicted of some other crime.

      The death penalty should never be a punishment for the “crime” of just being a bad person.

      1. The point that you are missing is that none of the so-called new evidence isn’t actually exculpatory and it doesn’t put the evidence he was convicted of in jeopardy. At most it suggests that there could have been someone else there too.

        There’s a reason nobody bothered to test a couple of spots until after he was dead. Because it doesn’t change any of the evidence that got him killed by the State.

        Interestingly, Lee offered no possible alternative explanation for the evidence that ultimately convicted him. Hell, nobody thinks that if there were an alternate explanation that Lee himself didn’t bother to throw it out there? Years later, all we still have is a deflection and no rational explanation for the evidence that was presented.

        1. Exactly. New evidence doesn’t exonerate this guy. It just means he wasn’t alone.

          When the Central Park Five were “exonerated” and paid off, nothing proved they weren’t there. Their own confessions put them there. Their behavior and other crimes the same night put them there.

          That they might have been helped by a sixth guy who ultimately was blamed, years later, doesn’t mean they were not guilty.

          1. When the Central Park Five were “exonerated” and paid off, nothing proved they weren’t there. Their own confessions put them there. Their behavior and other crimes the same night put them there.

            to be more specific, they were only exonerated of the one rape, not tyhe other crimes.

        2. You don’t think the lack of his DNA provides reasonable doubt as to his guilt? Remember that is the standard of proof for criminal conviction.

          1. Read this article.

            That’s easily enough evidence to meet the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. You’d have to do some mental gymnastics to argue that they implicated the wrong man. Of course, people will be swayed by biased articles like this and blue checkmarks on social media.

    2. What exactly is the argument here?

      “I don’t know if he’s guilty of murder, but he’s a scumbag, so let’s execute him anyway”?

      1. Are you really surprised? Same people who weren’t concerned with Floyd dying because he had drugs in his system. As if that excuses being executed on the street instead of having due process like anyone else.

    3. If he didn’t do it, that means the actual culprit got away with it.

  5. Yet one more reason why the death penalty should be abolished.

    1. I agree with you on this. Government fails miserably at things and it is too much to expect 100% accuracy on this issue.

      1. Also agree. Besides that, wasn’t it more expensive to execute somehow? I’d rather get rid of pointless drug charges to free up whatever additional space you’d need to just house prisoners for life other than executing them. At least gross miscarriages of justice could be examined and overturned (read about one last week actually.)

    2. We need executions. Doesn’t much matter who really. Gotta satisfy blood lust somehow. So rather than eliminate executions of the not-guilty, I say double down by executing those agents of the state complicit in the execution of the not-guilty.

  6. Bafflingly, that evidence—located on a blood-spattered white shirt and wooden club, the latter of which was used to beat Reese to death—was not tested before the trial.

    During trial, never ask a question you do not know the answer to.

    The corrollary is never test evidence unless you want to present the results to a judge or jury.

  7. Liberal journalist makes cause célèbre out of problem negro getting exactly what he has coming. Do you work at being a cliche, or does it come naturally? Haven’t you guys been milking this line long enough?

    1. Yeah it’s almost like Negroes are treated particularly unjustly by the criminal justice system.

  8. >>was not tested before the trial

    can’t violate Brady without exculpatory evidence. abolish the death penalty.

  9. I’m against the death penalty, but this article is very misleading. Lee used a $100 bill within about an hour of the victim’s death that was in her wallet (Dad gave her $300 in $100 dollar bills from a stack he had just withdrawn from the bank and they had ordered serial numbers. The one Lee used was two above one the dad was able to produce, so either Lee was involved, got paid one immediately after the murder, or had the worst luck in the world as far as getting a bill from the bank). Multiple witnesses identified him as the guy either near or entering the house around the time of the murder (as well as some not picking him as mentioned in this article). There were fingerprints that did not match Lee’s. Guy was simultaneously serving two other sentences for rape. The state declined to bring another case of murder against him that he was tied to because he was already on death row. Should this be investigated? Absolutely! Everyone deserves a full review of all the relevant evidence. Anything that brings to light prosecutorial or defense misconduct is good. Anything that helps bring an end to death penalties that are unfairly administered, and irreversible, is great, but I’m not shedding any tears for this dirt bag.

  10. It appears that he was also tried for another rape/murder case. There was a hung jury and the prosecutor decided not to retry him. He was also a suspect in several rapes. DNA may have cleared him of this specific murder and it is no excuse that he may have committed other murders or crimes. He should only be convicted of the specific crime. But this complicates the matter.

  11. Never give the state the power of execution.

  12. This is a lot of propaganda, first of all the people running the DNA test were the innocence project, they didnt allow the prosecution to review the data at all. As we would expect from a conflict of interest, they made the report sound as if Ledell was exonerated, he was not. One of the hairs found on the murder weapon was an exact match for Ledell(or a direct family member in his maternal line). The innocence project has a history of trying to lie about murderers by completely lying about cases. They excluded testing fingernail scrapings from debra, they tested hairs that were the husbands, etc etc all to paint a false narrative that they exonerated him. Debra’s blood was also found on Lee’s shoes, and they again lied to downplay this.

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