The ACLU has taken over the representation of death row inmate Ledell Lee, currently scheduled to be executed on Thursday, and today filed for a stay of execution.

The ACLU makes two claims in its filing: innocence, based on the fact that blood and hair recovered at the scene was never tested for DNA (fingerprints found at the scene do not match Lee); and intellectual disability from fetal alcohol syndrome, which the ACLU argues demands funding for a mitigation investigation that was never properly done.


The ACLU provided the following summary of its motions, after the jump.


Mr. Lee has always maintained his innocence in the death of Debra Reese. On April 17, 2017, Mr. Ledell Lee filed a Motion For Post-Conviction DNA Testing in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, Arkansas seeking DNA testing of forensic evidence used by the prosecution at his trial in 1995. The prosecution relied upon hairs found at the scene and two tiny pinpoints of material on the shoes of Mr. Lee which the prosecution contended was human blood. Fingerprints found at the scene did not match Mr. Lee.

One intact hair and several hair fragments from the crime scene were analyzed by a criminalist who testified that at the time of his analysis, it was scientifically impossible to say whether the hair came from Mr. Lee. The criminalist could only compare the hair found at the scene with Mr. Lee’s hair and say that the “Negroid” hair at the scene was not inconsistent with Mr. Lee’s hair. This type of side-by-side comparison of hair is not scientifically accurate. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences found that hair microscopy cannot uniquely identify one person as the source of hair, concluding that evidence of a match “must be confirmed using [mitochondrial] DNA analysis.” Mr. Lee is now seeking to have mitochondrial DNA testing performed on the hairs at the scene to show they are not his. Through this new DNA analysis that was not available at the time of Mr. Lee’s trial, it can be conclusively determined whether the hair found at the scene belonged to Mr. Lee.

A serologist testified at trial that he found two tiny pinpoints of material – one on each of Mr. Lee’s shoes – that he believes was human blood, but he was unable to determine the origin of the blood. Despite a very bloody crime scene with extensive blood spatter, there was no blood on any of Mr. Lee’s other clothing he was wearing just three hours after the crime. In performing the pre-trial test, the serologist consumed all of the visible material on Mr. Lee’s shoes so Mr. Lee’s attorneys had no opportunity to test the material. STR DNA testing now permits the examination of minute quantities of biological evidence – evidence which probably still exists on Mr. Lee’s tennis shoes. This testing was not available at the time of Mr. Lee’s trial, but now may be used to show the material on his shoes was not Ms. Reese’s blood.

DNA testing is perfectly suited for cases like this one, where technology unavailable at the time of trial can conclusively establish the legitimacy of Mr. Lee’s innocence claim and undermine evidence used by the prosecution to convict him.


On April 17, 2017, Mr. Ledell Lee filed a motion in United States District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, seeking funds from the court to retain the services of a mitigation specialist. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that attorneys must investigate the background of a capital defendant and present mitigating evidence of the defendant’s life history. Due to a total break-down of effective advocacy for Mr. Lee over the last two decades, no attorneys have done such an investigation.

It appears that until last week, despite the fact that counsel have known for over a decade that Mr. Lee was in special education and no psychological evaluation was ever done of Mr. Lee. Dr. Dale Watson, a neuropsychologist has now evaluated Mr. Lee and determined that Mr. Lee has intellectual disability, mild or borderline, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and significant brain damage. The intellectually disabled are exempt from execution under Atkins v. Virginia. This is the type of evidence the Supreme Court has emphasized should be investigated and presented as part of a defendant’s life history. Based on these newly discovered findings, Mr. Lee is seeking funds from the court to hire a mitigation specialist to investigate and prove these claims and his ineligibility for the death penalty.