Days before scheduled execution, Arkansas inmate's request for DNA testing denied

Death row inmate Ledell Lee is escorted out of Judge Herbert Wright's courtroom Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Death row inmate Ledell Lee is escorted out of Judge Herbert Wright's courtroom Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

5:45 P.M. UPDATE:

Just days before his scheduled execution, an Arkansas inmate's request for post-conviction testing was denied by a Pulaski County judge.

In a ruling filed at 5:12 p.m. Tuesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, Judge Herbert Wright said that the advances in DNA technology have "been available for some years" before a motion filed by convicted murderer Ledell Lee's attorney.

Wright added that the 51-year-old Lee "has not given a satisfactory explanation for the delay in this petition."

"The court would strongly emphasize its observation that this motion seems to be based solely on the defendant's own assertion of actual innocence, and the court does not find that a denial of same would result in a manifest injustice," the judge wrote.

Wright also noted that the credibility of witness statements, which Lee's attorney called into question Tuesday, has been determined by a jury.

"The verdict has been attacked, appealed and considered multiple times here and in higher courts, and this court will not substitute its own judgment for that of the jurors two decades removed," he said.

Lee was found guilty of capital murder in the February 1993 killing of Debra Reese, who was found bludgeoned to death in her Jacksonville home.

He and another death row inmate, Stacey Johnson, are scheduled to die Thursday, barring any pending legal challenges surrounding their executions.

Read Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


A lawyer for one of two Arkansas inmates set to die later this week contends that his client is due additional DNA testing in the decades-old case.

Convicted murderer Ledell Lee, 51, appeared with attorney Lee Short of North Little Rock on Tuesday afternoon before Judge Herbert Wright in Pulaski County Circuit Court for a motion hearing seeking additional examination of hair and blood samples.

Short argued that his client has consistently claimed his innocence and denied any involvement in the February 1993 killing of Debra Reese, who was reportedly struck 36 times with a tire iron that her husband had given to her as a form of protection.

Lee is also serving prison time for the rapes of a woman and teen from Jacksonville.

A pair of Converse tennis shoes taken from Lee the day of Reese’s killing yielded a small amount of blood that could not be traced back to anyone, Lee’s attorney said.

Short said that hair collected at the crime scene, described by the state’s expert at trial in October 1995 as one “intact Negroid head hair” and “fragments,” was also inconclusive.

Lee’s attorney stated in the motion that “probative biological evidence currently in the custodian control of the state may now be able to provide — through the use of modern, cutting edge DNA testing technology — confirmation of the veracity of Mr. Lee’s innocence claim.”

Chief deputy prosecuting attorney John Johnson, meanwhile, told the court that Lee had not presented sufficient evidence to support the need for further DNA testing.

Additionally, new technology referenced in the motion had been around since at least 2009, leaving Lee with years to fight that battle in court, Johnson said.

The state’s response also referred to the testing request as “presumptively untimely,” given that the petition was not made within 36 months of conviction.

The testing would be provided at no cost to the state as part of an agreement with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that has successfully fought wrongful convictions around the country with new DNA evidence.

A ruling on Lee’s motion is expected before the end of Tuesday, Wright said.

Lee's attorneys have separately asked a federal judge to consider claims that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and an intellectual disability. Earlier Tuesday, the judge ordered that Lee receive a psychological evaluation Wednesday.

The state attorney general's office says there are no current legal obstacles to executing Lee as scheduled.

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

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