Friday, April 21, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Ledell Lee, serial killer

A serial killer and rapist who picked out his female victims at random more than 20 years ago in Jacksonville was executed at the Cummins Unit just before midnight Thursday. Ledell Lee, 51, convicted of a vicious murder in 1993, was executed by lethal injection after exhausting his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee met his end around 11:51 p.m., just minutes before his execution date was to expire. He appeared stoic and died without a struggle. Recent lethal injections in Oklahoma were reportedly botched, but Lee’s execution went off without incident.

Lee’s attorneys argued he was improperly convicted and did not have adequate representation.

He told us in a prison interview more than 20 years ago he was a victim of a police frameup and he kept maintaining his innocence until the end.

Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, convicted in a 1994 killing that started with a kidnapping at a Jacksonville gas station, could meet the same fate as Lee. Barring last-minute appeals, Williams is scheduled to be executed Monday, along with another killer. Williams’ attorneys argue that he’s too sick (he has diabetes) and overweight to be subjected to a lethal injection.

Williams was found guilty in the capital murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery of Stacey Errickson, 22, who was married to an airman at Little Rock Air Force Base.

When he set execution dates for eight Arkansas killers on death row earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson probably did not foresee the legal challenges and the worldwide publicity that would follow.

District and federal courts have challenged the mass executions as cruel and unusual punishment, and even the drug manufacturers claim they were acquired under false pretenses and should not be used in executions.

Executions by lethal injection in the latter half of April were first planned for eight men, then six, and now that number has dropped to four. They’re likely to appeal until the last minute and it’s possible that half of them will not be executed as the drugs expire next weekend.

The state Supreme Court earlier halted the executions of two men considered mentally challenged — Don Davis and Bruce Ward — and others could make similar arguments all the way to U.S. Supreme Court.

Hutchinson was determined to get the executions completed before the end of the month, when the lethal drugs are said to expire. It’s doubtful others will be found after the drugs expire.

We covered the Lee and Williams trials and interviewed Lee at the Varner Supermaximum Prison in Grady (Lincoln County). Lee killed Debra Reese not a hundred yards from The Leader and probably two others in the same area — the daughter of an alderman and a sex worker for which he was never tried since the prosecution decided capital punishment in the Reese killing would mean he would never walk out of prison alive.

The details of these horrible crimes are gruesome and even more disturbing having known one his rape victims who worked here at The Leader.

That said, it’s obvious that executions today are seldom on schedule. The endless delays are not only painful to victims’ families but, yes, also to the killers, whose on-again, off-again trip to the death chamber may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Having met Ledell Lee, we never doubted for a second that he was a vicious, opportunistic criminal who enjoyed preying on his victims. Lee may have realized that the justice served at the end was more than deserved. After 25 years in prison, Lee probably did not look forward to another 25 years behind bars.

The lethal injection may have seemed like welcome relief.