Executed prisoner’s last words may prove right as DNA tests suggest innocence

A man who was convicted and executed for killing a woman by beating her may be innocent as fresh DNA evidence comes to light.

Ledell Lee, who was on death row for 21 years, was sentenced to execution after he was found guilty of murdering Debra Reese by beating her with a tyre thumper, a tool resembling a sawn-off baseball bat used by truckers to test the pressure of their wheels.

Her strangled body was found in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas in 1993 with multiple injuries.

Lee, 51, was executed on April 20, 2017 by lethal injection using the sedative midazolam but just before he was put to death he told Mirror journalist Christopher Bucktin that they were "killing an innocent man".

It has now been confirmed that a different man’s DNA has been discovered on the murder weapon and the search is on to find out who it belongs to.

The weapon used in the attack and a white shirt wrapped around the weapon were never tested and despite the conviction the new DNA profile will be added to a national criminal database to locate the person.

Two days before his lethal injection, Lee told the Mirror: “They are trying to kill an innocent man, just to see if they can actually get away with it.

“History has proven that instead of righting a wrong, this nation would rather cover up instead of apologising and try to make right that wrong.

“And why? Because this nation as a whole would rather live with that lie to keep from being embarrassed no matter what the cost. Even if that cost means trying to kill an innocent man.”

Lee’s sister, Patricia Young, has been fighting for years to prove her brother's innocence.

“We remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future,” she said in a statement.

Her lawsuit prompted city officials to release the club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, the shirt and several other pieces of evidence, for testing.

Earlier requests were refused and a judge denied Lee a stay of execution.

The new DNA results, 29 years after the evidence was collected, “proved to be incomplete and partial,” acknowledged Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project.

But she described the discovery as significant, leaving the door open for more findings in a case with no physical evidence linking Lee to Reese’s murder.

No match has yet been found for the DNA, which now lies on a nationwide criminal database.

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Despite the development, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who oversaw the execution, defended Lee’s killing.

“It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding: “The fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.”

He labelled the DNA find “inconclusive.”

Arkansas Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge dismissed criticism. He said the evidence demonstrated Lee was guilty “beyond any shadow of a doubt”.

But before being convicted, prosecutors painted Lee as a rapist and killer of several women aged 17 to 70. He was not tried for any of the crimes.

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