If innocent, Ledell Lee would become first wrongful execution in modern history

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Ledell Lee’s case still has many unanswered questions even nearly three years after he was put to death by the state of Arkansas.

“Ledell Lee’s case has haunted so many people,” Furhonda Brasfield said.

Lee’s family and lawyers are asking the city of Jacksonville to hand over DNA evidence from the 1993 murder of Debra Reese. 

The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Jacksonville Police Department and the city. They are asking evidence-like scrapings from under the victim’s fingernails to be turned over.

“It benefits every Arkansan to know the truth about what happened there,” Brasfield said.

Furhonda Brasfield is a lawyer who followed the case closely in 2017.

“The lawsuit that was filed today says we want the government to be transparent,” she said.

Lee was denied DNA testing for evidence like blood found on his shoes. The scientist that originally tested the blood, only tested to see if it was human blood. It’s not a composite of any particular person or Reese.

“Ledell Lee to the day he died wanted to test that to exclude the victim and to show that it was the blood from him or an innocent third party,” Brasfield said.

Brasfield said denying death row inmates DNA testing happens all the time.

“We are denying them a very simple and basic right…’If you’re going to kill me, can we just make absolute sure that I’m the person you want to kill?” she said.

If Lee is innocent, this would be the first time in the country someone was proven to be innocent after they’ve been executed through DNA evidence.

“If we can execute an innocent man, then that’s proof that our system is broken,” Brasfield said. “We would have a concrete, emphatic example of what happens with the death penalty. You can kill innocent people.”

This won’t change Ledell’s Lee’s fate, but Brasfield said this case could help someone else sitting on death row.

“The state of Arkansas has said emphatically that Ledell Lee was the killer in this instance, and so what does it hurt to test the DNA for something that the state is so sure about,” she said. “The only thing that can happen here is the state can prove themselves right or we can find the right killer in the person that perpetrated this crime. That’s a win, win.”

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Lawyers have negotiated with Jacksonville for two years to hand over the DNA evidence; the city refuses to.

Lee’s lawyers joined his case just days before his execution. After his death, they turned to their own forensic experts where they learned no physical evidence tied Lee to Reese’s murder.