Innocence Project Responds to the Execution of Ledell Lee

By Innocence Staff

Ledell Lee executed by Arkansas in 2017 with out a chance of testing DNA that could have proven his innocence.

(Little Rock, AR – April 20, 2017) The following can be attributed to Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison who along with the ACLU represented Ledell Lee in seeking DNA testing prior to his execution this evening:

Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later.  During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation’s prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test.

Arkansas’s decision to rush through the execution of Mr. Lee just because its supply of lethal drugs are expiring at the end of the month denied him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could have proven his innocence. While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.

Related: Ledell Lee: ‘My life on death row is like Twilight Zone’

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.”

Additional information about Lee’s case is available here.

Join us sending condolences to the Lee family below.


  1. Steph

    Now that DNA testing has come so far in the last few years surely it wouldn’t of done any harm to allow the test to be done, then if proven if they still had to do it lift the stay. Personally I don’t agree with the death penalty.

  2. Gail Hamilton Johnson

    God bless him….so so so so so so so wrong

  3. katie

    I am trying to understand why Lee had to wait for the state to do the DNA testing? Is it illegal to have your own testing done? Could your organization or his defense attorney have had the DNA test ran?

    • They needed the hair the state had to test it against his

    • harlemjd

      because he needed the state to turn over the hairs to be tested. the DNA material at issue was in the physical custody of the government.

    • Alisa

      Yes, but they need access to the materials and samples collected at the crime scene which requires the state’s participation.

      Far too often states (or at least their human representatives) are more concerned with preserving “finality” (I.e.: their victories) than with true justice. And far too many are unmoved by the argument that the jailing or execution of an innocent leaves the true culprit free to victimize additional families, which should be a winning argument for anyone truly concerned about justice, community safety, and victims and their families. Apparently, the appearance of justice and safety is enough for these so-called public servants.

    • Ariana

      Access to the evidence to conduct testing.

    • Brian

      The prosecution controls the evidence. Without a court order and/or prosecutorial agreement, an expert hired by the defense would not have access to the sample to do the testing.

      • Larry

        The defense team would have had a copy of the hair test results from the trial. That should be sufficient to have compared a current sample.

        • Chris Halkides

          No one had done any DNA testing on the hairs. The only thing which had been done is to compare hairs visually. Even the FBI now recognizes the unreliability of this sort of evidence.

  4. Liah

    I hope that this testing still gets done. The only hope we have of convincing this bloodthirsty country of the danger of the death penalty is to prove in a glaring and public way that they screwed up. Sadly, I would guess that the kind of controversy something like that would cause is too much for most people to participate in and it will never be done. It would show us all too much of our own ugliness and create an instability in our country’s foundational beliefs that would rock us to our very core.

  5. Holly

    Lee couldn’t access the evidence without a court order. When he finally got a lawyer who asked for such an order, his request was denied. And so was justice.

    • Kathy Ellis

      DNA evidence needs to be pursued. Justices who deny complete access to the evidence for testing with latest methods need names public to face liabilaity and defeat at the polls.

  6. Darryl Baker

    I have no idea how strong the state’s case was, but I know “strong” cases are often wrong. It’s inexcusable that the court wouldn’t stay this in light of the DNA possibilities. It’s also inexcusable for the state to proceed when it had evidence that might have cleared this man.

  7. Nathan Oliver

    Will Innocence Project continue to pursue DNA testing in Lee’s case? Or would that only be useful if the DNA results could prove definitively that Lee was innocent (I gather that is not the case)?

  8. Dan

    Katie, the evidence is in State custody and the State would not allow it to be tested without a court order which the courts refused to give.

  9. arimbu

    Could you possibly go ahead with the DNA testing to prove that he was innocent?
    Maybe that would shock people enough that they would change the laws?

  10. Katie, that was a wise question. I am in awe of how we attempt to help and yet we fail to give it our all! If independent DNA analyses are allowed the project should have campaign for donations to ensure he gets the test done.

    All the same, life is better for him in the unknown world where something better than our hypocritical world exists. RIP

  11. Kate

    Katie, my understanding is that evidence used in the prosecution of a crime is held by the police, and a judge has to sign an order to allow defense attorneys to have access to physical evidence. If my understanding is correct, that would explain why the Innocence Project attorneys could not run DNA testing. If they couldn’t get access to the hair strands, they couldn’t test them.

  12. Angel Young

    God says our justice system is too corrupted. So many innocent people are executed because of discrimination. People such as Brian Terrell, and possibly Ledell Lee as well. So we are to help out people like Ronnie Lee, Richard Glossip, possibly Ivan Teleguz so they can be set free!

  13. Gloria Fiorini

    A sickening, senseless, completely inhumane tragedy, carried out by bureaucrats more concerned with the expiration date on a batch of drugs than with a human life. I have to wonder if the powers that be in Arkansas would have been more compassionate and humane if Ledell Lee had been a white man.

  14. Ashamed Arkansan

    Is there any chance the DNA could still be tested? To prove his innocence posthumously?

  15. Gentlemen:
    I’m absolutely HORRIFIED at the HASTY execution of Ledell Lee, one of the 8 Arkansas Death Row inmates originally scheduled for mass execution this week, without being allowed to have the LARGE amount of his crime scene evidence DNA tested. This case poignantly shows, that DNA testing should be MANDATORY in ALL felony (especially death-penalty) cases, where such DNA evidence exists. NEVER AGAIN should anyone ever be EXECUTED without DNA testing, if such evidence exists. Congress and all 50 States MUST pass Federal and State legislation MANDATING DNA testing. It is the MOST accurate evidence testing now available. WHAT is to be gained by refusing such testing, and then hastily executing a defendant who might test INNOCENT!?? Isn’t the trial process supposed to be a search for the TRUTH of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, most especially in death penalty cases?? I’m horrified and sickened at the real possibility that an INNOCENT man may have been executed last night, because Arkansas was TOO FRIGHTENED that DNA testing may have exonerated him. So they killed him, instead. Wow! And this is our “LEGAL” system !!?? Change this now!!!

  16. Quan

    For those of you who refused this man DNA, God is going to refuse you. Trust, this man \’s blood is on your hands, and though there may be an incling of power. You will NOT escape God\’s wrath upon you and those you hold dear! REMEMBER THESE WORDS!

    Venengeance is mine so sayeth the Lord, I WILL REPAY!

  17. Pimp Sleazy

    @Catherine Geever : allows for creation of petitions which could ultimately become law, given enough signatures. I agree that if DNA evidence can be made available it MUST be used if the prosecution is seeking the death penalty (or any conviction at all). Furthermore, the defense MUST BE ALLOWED INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS just as they are allowed with drug evidence. So who will write the petition? Me? Im an ex felon (long ago and not violent or drugs). Nobody will listen to me. You write it. I will sign it.

  18. Patricia Uri

    Does anyone have any idea how much money a trial costs, let alone DNA testing? Do you know how many people the Innocence Project is asked to intervene in? Defending oneself is expensive and the Innocence Project needs educated and proficient staff. They may use their own money for gas and travel, etc and have to pay for copying fees, courier fees, cell phone bills, parking, legal compensations for professional testimony and interpretation of the ‘evidence’ involved. Not to mention the basics of a place to work out of and utilities, so drumming up (more) donations for DNA is rather a simplistic idea. They are their because their families have no money or are wiped out by paying for ineffective counsel. Our criminal justice system is (like) politics, rooted in corruption and money. The one’s with the most money, get the best defense. I imagine many middle class people could not afford to keep defending their loved ones. If you have a house, it goes into foreclosure.. Back in the day, DNA was not a thing, by the time they are down to the wire, they have been out of money for quite some time. The Innocence Project is not funded by the judicial system. It relies on volunteers and donations to do some of their footwork. So in a perfect world DNA testing would be great, but places like Georgia, they do not let you copy the transcripts of the last trial, and if the DNA does exonerate them, Georgia has this law that makes it damn near impossible to get out of jail, despite their innocence. There are a lot of excellent podcasts out there that explain what they go through when they are trying to decide if a person is innocent and needs their defense. It takes time and money to just filter people out, make replies and inquiries and then judge who has the best chance to move forward. For starters, try Serial and Undisclosed. This hasty execution was a way to keep control over their perversion of justice. They do not care if they are innocent.

  19. Greg

    You are wrong about the expiration of drugs being the motivation for this execution. The motivation is Leslie Rutledge’s desire to improve her standing with the Republican party at a national level. She got a taste for national exposure this during the recent presidential elections and manipulated the drug expiration issue to promote herself.


    Something is seriously wrong when you won’t allow DNA testing in a death penalty case!

  21. Arkansas chose the expedience of lethal drug expiration over the science of DNA testing. Clearly “Justice Death is stalking in the robes of Number Nine.” Song & lyrics at

  22. The Judicial system needs an overhaul period. My husband is currently serving time wrongfully convicted on circumstantial evidence going on 19 years now in KERN VALLEY STATE PRISON DELANO CA. He has continually from start claimed his innocence. We have been through so much trying to get him home. He has self educated himself in law and has been fighting nonstop. He has missed so much of life outside with his family. We are in desperate need of help. We’re tapped out on monies and need a criminal or civil lawyer to help us further. We have evidence to prove his innocence but its being overlooked. There will be so many names to name who are wrong in their conviction of my husband and so its being kept on a hush. He hasn’t committed a murder and was given 39years to life plus 19years to life with possibility of parole on both sentences this is due to enhancements that were placed on him from a corrupt officer. He DID NOT commit the crime hes imprisoned for and the person’s who did commit the crime came forward and gave written statements that they were coerced by these officers to implement my husband in this crime. ROBBERY! I feel I’m being robbed of time with my husband. Please help us.

  23. Detlef Lodenkämper

    I feel deep sympathy with the family of Ledell Lee.. May God give you strength und faith. God bless you.

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