|Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge|
|Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson|
|Trump U.S. Supreme Court appointee Neil M. Gorsuch|
Last Thursday, April 20th, in a middle-of-nowhere prison called the Cummins Unit, the State of Arkansas strapped Ledell Lee on his back to a gurney-like execution apparatus.
Asked to make a statement, Lee declined. Somebody stuck an intravenous needle into him, and pumped a three-drug “cocktail” into his body. About 13 minutes later, he was dead.
You can favor capital punishment or not. This is not about that. This is about the rushed killing of a possibly innocent man, which would make Ledell Lee’s execution a cold-blooded, state sanctioned murder.
Lee had always proclaimed his innocence. And there is a convincing body of evidence that indicates he indeed was innocent. Consider these excerpts from the Innocence Project’s Death Penalty Blog:
Mr. Lee has always maintained his innocence of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Debra Reese. Numerous unknown fingerprints were found at the crime scene, yet none were from Mr. Lee.
At trial, the prosecution claimed that two small spots of “human blood” on shoes recovered by the police from Mr. Lee were likely the victim’s blood. Yet despite the extremely bloody nature of the crime, no other blood was found anywhere on Mr. Lee’s shoes, or any of his clothing. Newly available DNA testing could prove whether the spots were in fact the victim’s blood
Attorneys are also seeking to test hairs of purported African-American origin that were recovered at the scene. At trial, the state argued that the hairs came from the defendant, after witnesses reported seeing a lone black male enter and exit the home of the victim, who was white.
The state’s experts claimed that the hairs were “consistent” with Mr. Lee’s, based on microscopic examination – a forensic method that has since been discredited.
DNA testing could prove not only if the hairs came from Mr. Lee, but a DNA profile could also be identified from the hairs that could help determine who really committed the crime – including comparing it to the millions of DNA profiles in the national DNA databank. DNA testing and databank searches were not available at Mr. Lee’s trial, but are standard practice in 2017.
The criminal justice system has completely failed Mr. Lee since he was arrested for the crime. Mr. Lee was tried by a judge who concealed that he was having an affair with the assistant prosecutor on the case, whom he later married.
Mr. Lee’s first state post-conviction counsel introduced the evidence of the affair by calling the judge’s ex-wife, who testified about the affair after opposing the subpoena. Mr. Lee’s lawyer, however, was so intoxicated at the hearing that the prosecution asked for him to be drug tested after he slurred, stumbled, and made incoherent arguments.Most of the Arkansas appeals court that heard this cased chose to ignore the evidence pointing to the likelihood that Lee was innocent. An exception was Judge Josephine Linker Hart. Again, the Innocence Project reports:
In a dissenting opinion denying Lee a stay issued today, Arkansas Supreme Court Judge Josephine Linker Hart made a powerful argument for why DNA testing was in the interest of justice. Justice Hart characterized Lee’s claim for DNA testing of hairs the state claimed linked Lee to the crime as a “modest request,” noting that the hair evidence had been used against him at trial and “tilted in the State’s favor a very weak case based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Judge Hart also emphasized the unfairness and arbitrariness of the Arkansas court’s grant of a stay to Stacey Johnson for DNA testing while denying one to Lee, adding, “I am at a loss to explain this Court’s dissimilar treatment of similarly situated litigants.” Judge Hart concluded by stating, “The court’s error in denying the motion for stay will not be capable of correction.”
Well, it might have been capable of correction had the United States Supreme Court provided a stay of execution until valid forensic evidence could be analyzed. Fat chance. Donald Trump’s newly-minted appointee, Neil Gorsuch, voted with the majority to kill the man first and ask questions later.
I hope the Innocence Project will not let this matter rest even though Lee is dead, and that it will continue to demand a forensic analysis of the “blood” — if it was blood — on Lee’s shoes, and of the hair samples found at the murder scene.
If those are not a match with Lee, the people who in effect will have murdered an innocent man will include more than just the judge and prosecutor in Lee’s original trial, who for all I know may have arranged his death sentence in bed. There are others. Among them:
• Arkansas State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who succesfully fought tooth and nail to get Lee executed before the forensic evidence could undergo DNA testing.
• Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has been pressing for the equivalent of an excution assembly line — evidently whether the men he executes are guilty or not — because one of the drugs used in the “cocktail” is approaching its “use by” date, and he’ll have one hell of a problem replacing it once it’s expired.
• Perhaps, most shamefully of all, newly appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neill Gorsuch, another “execute ‘em first and ask questions later” judge, who made his bones with his first decision on the high court.
If DNA analysis eventually proves Ledell Lee’s innocence — or if the Rutledge, Hutchinson, Gorsuch and others somehow manage to block an examination of the evidence or allow its destruction, I hope that wherever they go, crowds of chanting Americans will call them out for what they have been shown to be.
“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”