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

By Innocence Staff

In the wake of the death of Ledell Lee, whom the state of Arkansas rushed to execute late Thursday night without giving him the opportunity to conduct DNA testing that could prove his innocence, media outlets have released articles and op-eds that call attention to Lee’s last hours alive and his and his legal team’s unrelenting fight to prove his innocence.

The CBC published an interview that the hosts of As it Happens did with Innocence Project Senior Attorney Nina Morrison, who was brought on to work on Lee’s case in the weeks leading up to his execution.

Morrison told the CBC: “It’s hard to find the words. It’s extremely painful. . . . I am just outraged and devastated that the state of Arkansas rushed to execute Ledell Lee before he got the DNA test that could have proven the truth of what he has been saying for 20 years.”

She spoke about the state’s explanation for not granting Lee’s petition for DNA testing.

“Primarily, what they said was that he brought this DNA testing too late, that it was filed on the eve of his execution and he should have done it long ago,” said Morrison. “There are a lot of problems with that argument. One is it’s never too late to find out if you’re executing the wrong man for a crime he didn’t commit. The other big problem is that Mr. Lee never had lawyers before two weeks ago who knew anything about DNA and presented his claim to the courts. We only got brought on after his execution day was set and the lawyers, who were newly assigned, called us and asked for our help.”

Read the entire interview here.

In the Arkansas Times, a letter written by Lee Short—also one of Ledell Lee’s attorneys— described how Lee spent his last hours before he was executed. Short wrote:

. . . . Ledell chose not to make a statement in the execution chamber. However, he said and did plenty in the hours leading up to it. From 430 pm until 5 pm I briefed him on the legal issues at the various courts. From 5 to 615 I listened to him make phone calls to his family members (mother, brothers, and daughters) telling them to stay strong and he would see them again one day. From 615 to 630 he prayed with the chaplain he has known and loved for over 20 years. That chaplain remained by his side throughout the evening. They continually reassured one another that because they were gathered in the name of the Father, He was there. At 630 he frantically began dividing his belongings, which fit in a cardboard box. He gave his potato chips to Stacey Johnson who continued to say uplifting messages to Ledell throughout the night. Ledell willed away his property, which included saltines, cups, and even his condiments.  That moment was more than I could take. As tears rolled down my cheeks, there was a friendly face who offered me a Dr. Pepper and said no more.

You can read more of the letter here.

And the BBC released a clip of an interview that a reporter did with Lee shortly before he was executed. “My life on death row is like Twilight Zone,” said Lee.

A fund to help the Lee family with funeral expenses has been setup by supporters in Arkansas here (Please specify that your donation is for Ledell Lee).


  1. Katie Polzer

    At any point are you guys going to be able to obtain the hairs to get them tested??

  2. Aline Rembert

    Omg, I can see clearly the prosecution do whatever they want with our lives. I’m appalled about how our judicial system is failing us.

  3. J.M.

    since the state no longer needs the evidence, can it be obtained and tested privately?

  4. Maybe if we don’t call the state “the state,” but rather name all of the individuals in “the state” who share responsibility, people will be more likely to slow down. Can you do the DNA test ex post facto and then file a murder charge against the state but name a lot of individuals who could have died be something but did not as accused murderers. I wonder if that would have an impact.

  5. Billiie Jo Boyiddle

    My heart goes out to Lee\’s family. I know their fight for justice all too well. I have been fighting the killing system of injustice in Oklahoma for 17 years. My uncle is Richard Glossip who has been sentenced to death for a murder he didn\’t commit. He has been on death row for 20 years. I do understand victims rights and everyone wants justice, but it shouldn\’t be at the cost of murdering another innocent person. Innocence protection should always be a priority. We rely on a jury of our peers to choose if someone lives or dies. As Americans we are supposed to have the right to a fair trial, but that doesn\’t mean fair trials are given. I have witnessed that first hand. We should never take a human life especially if there\’s any doubt of their guilt. Lee should have been given a chance to get dna testing done. This man was denied a chance to prove his innocence. You are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty not guilty with no chance of proving your innocence. As humans we are flawed, the system is run by humans, therefore not flawless. There are no consequences when an innocent person is put to death. That is murder. There should be people held accountable. I believe that we would see less favorability of the death penalty if accountability became a factor. Three times my family has had to endure the torture of Richard almost being murdered the third time was with a drug that wasn\’t even part of the state\’s protocol. The governor\’s office said proceed as planned. This should say enough about the people we allow to be in charge of human lives. I am so sorry the system failed you Ledell Lee. I am so sorry his family has had to endure this. My heart goes out to you. Keep fighting for Ledell, don\’t let the state of Arkansas get away with murder.

  6. Lynn

    I have puzzled over why they would resolutely refuse to permit DNA testing. I have come to suspect that they knew something they did not want anyone to find out. I strongly suspect they might have tagged him for that murder. When someone is on parole, they won’t leave the person alone. The criminal justice system turns parole or probation into a predatory game to get that person in prison (or back in prison). I believe that they may have felt that he deserved to be put to death for alleged rape (or a conviction of rape), esp. if the victim was someone they wanted to avenge, but people don’t get put to death for rape…so I would call that ideological activism. That is pure evil. I have been horrified over these executions. I am sickened that the family would be burdened with funeral expenses for a so-called “state-sponsored” murder. Just Sick.

    • Deborah Hines

      If I was part of Mr. Lee’s family, I would rather cover the cost of his funeral then allow the state if Arkansas bury him in an unmarked grave.

      I am very sorry Mr. Lee will never see justice in this case. It is a shame that the state did not exhaust all resources to prove or disprove his guilt.

  7. Myrna Carson

    The law states innocent until proven guilty,but, I am sorry that is not always true. Our legal system needs improving. they will stay like they are. Until the people fight to get the laws changed and come with better ones.

  8. Nisha

    Omg…..i am messed up over this. Its like people are caged animals and the state has a right to do whatever they want to them and no one can do a thing about it. Its like being a slave with no chance of freedom….i mean the ones who are trying to prove their innocence. I have a loved one who was convicted at 17 yrs old of rape, the DNA test was not presented in court and it could have proved his innocence. He had witnesses that testified that he did not kidnap the girl, but it was ignored and he was sentenced to 50 yrs….and he has done 22 and was denied parole 4 times….what kind of system does that? Why cant he be paroled? He gets charged at 17 and has to do all those years and cant be paroled? So they can take his whole life like that? This has to stop…The American people need to demand justice

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