Statement on Jacksonville City Council Vote to Test Evidence in Ledell Lee Case

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JACKONSVILLE, Ark. – City Council members in Jacksonville decide to release evidence that could exonerate an inmate who was executed nearly three years ago. 

“I believe the council knows that this is the right thing to do,” City of Jacksonville Mayor Bob Johnson said.  

The decision comes just days after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the city, demanding it release DNA evidence linked to former death row inmate Ledell Lee.  

It was a unanimous vote by City Council Friday. This is something that the ACLU and Lee’s family have been fighting for.  

“If there wasn’t a question of innocence or quilt then there wouldn’t be a need to do this,” Johnson said.  

City Council members called an emergency meeting Friday for a proposed order to release physical evidence in the case of Lee.  

“It’s important to know we either did the right thing or we’re going to make it right,” Johnson said.  

Ledell Lee was convicted of a 1993 murder and executed in 2017.  

“The family is absolutely relieved and pleased that the city of Jacksonville has decided to allow this testing to go forward and so they can get answers to questions that they’ve had for decades,” ACLU legal director Holly Dickson said.  

Lee’s sister, Patricia Young filed a complaint against the city to release and test the physical evidence.  

“They’ve been by his side since day one,” Dickson said. “They were actually with him on the day this crime was committed, and they testified as his alibi in his first trial. ” 

Initially the city’s attorney, Stephanie Friedman said she as well as the Attorney General’s Office do not consider physical evidence to be a public record that can be released for the public under the Freedom of Information Act.  

“I don’t want to go to court and fight about this, I just want to get it done,” Johnson said.  

The family said DNS and fingerprints that do not match Lee were found at the crime scene.  

“We can hopefully get moving to the testing Ledell asked for,” Dickson said.  

Now that the order has been approved the city will still maintain physical custody of all the evidence, but it will be tested at a mutually agreeable facility and then the results will be shared with the family and the public.  

“Those results need to be known if we don’t let it be known I bet the plaintiff will let it be known,” Johnson said. “So, I just think it’s the right thing to do, let it be known to everybody in Arkansas.” 

It’s unclear when the test will be, but Mayor Johnson said the city will move forward as soon as the testing site is agreed upon.  

Continue to stick with us for the latest on this.  

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Innocence Project issued the following statements regarding the Jacksonville City Council’s vote to agree to test evidence that could posthumously exonerate Ledell Lee, who was executed in 2017. New analysis from top forensic experts provides reason to believe Lee may have been executed for a crime he did not commit. 

“This lawsuit was always about finding the truth, and we’re glad the Jacksonville City Council has decided to do the right thing and allow this evidence to be tested,” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director and legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “While nothing can undo the injustice of Ledell Lee’s execution, tonight’s vote is a positive and long-overdue step that could well identify the real perpetrator of the crime. We thank Jacksonville city leaders for standing on the side of openness and hope to receive the court’s approval. Arkansans deserve the truth.” 

On January 23, the ACLU, the Innocence Project, the ACLU of Arkansas, Hogan Lovells US LLP, and Little Rock attorney John Tull filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in state court on behalf of Patricia Young, the sister of Ledell Lee. The lawsuit asked the court to order the city of Jacksonville to release DNA and fingerprints found at the scene of the crime — which do not match Lee’s — so that they can be tested and run through national databases for the first time. 

“We are grateful that the Jacksonville City Council tonight voted to do this testing,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “This DNA and fingerprint evidence quite possibly holds the key to who killed Debra Reese in 1993. It should have been tested before Ledell was executed. By voting to turn over the evidence for testing now, the Council members have shown that they are earnest in their pursuit of the truth and justice for the citizens of their city. We thank them for their courage.”

Innocence Project Senior Litigation Counsel Nina Morrison stated: “We are grateful that the City of Jacksonville has agreed to release the evidence needed to proceed with critical DNA and fingerprint analysis in the case of Ledell Lee. The search to uncover the truth about Debra Reese’s murder is in the interest of justice for all parties and for the public at large. We look forward to working with the City to conduct this new testing as soon as possible.”

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