Every now and then, a convicted murderer sentenced to death actually says he or she is innocent. It doesn’t happen as often as most people would think, but it does happen. And in the case of Ledell Lee in Arkansas, four years after his execution, members of the innocence project claim that a different man’s DNA was found on the murder weapon.
Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact, belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.
The DNA was never tested, and people up and down the chain of justice repeatedly denied requests to do so, including federal judges who claimed that Lee and his lawyers took too long, to begin with as the execution was carried out decades after the conviction.
And what does the Republican Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, have to say about this? At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended Mr. Lee’s execution:
“It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He called the new DNA evidence that has emerged “inconclusive.”
It would be inconclusive if Lee’s DNA was also on the weapon, but that does not appear to be the case. The reality is that the state of Arkansas put a rush on executions in 2017 to beat the expiration date on their supply of lethal injection drugs, and may well have made one huge mistake.
At any rate, Lee maintained he was innocent until his dying breath. If he was correct, then Hutchinson and some federal judges have some explaining to do.
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He had already been found guilty of committing two prior rapes. The question is: why was he not already in jail?