Friday, April 21, 2017

TOP STORY >> Lee executed, Williams next

Leader executive editor

A Jacksonville death-row inmate who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s was executed at 11:40 p.m. Thursday after he lost his final appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ledell Lee, 51, was injected with a fatal combination of drugs at the state’s Cummins Unit about five hours after his scheduled execution as he ran out his appeals in Little Rock, St. Louis and Washington. He was pronounced dead about 10 minutes later.

The scheduled execution Thursday night of a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, 47, was delayed after a successful appeal.

“We conclude that the (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkan-sas) was correct in determining that, despite the procedural shortcomings in the clemency process, the inmates received the minimal due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment,” the appeals court wrote just hours before Lee’s execution.

Lee was sentenced to die for the Feb. 9, 1993, beating and strangulation death of Debra Reese, 26, in the Sunnyside addition in Jacksonville, where he had attacked several other women.

Lee skipped his final meal and instead asked for holy communion. He claimed he was innocent until the end. After his capital murder conviction in 1995, he told The Leader in a prison interview he was framed by the Jacksonville police.

Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, who was convicted of kidnapping a woman in Jacksonville and dumping her body in North Little Rock, is scheduled to be executed Monday, along with another death row inmate. Two more executions are scheduled for Thursday.

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier Thursday to allow the use of legal drugs in Lee’s execution and seven other death row inmates. A Pulaski County court had earlier sided with McKesson Corp., which had to tried to stop the use of its vecuronium bromide in lethal injections, but the state appealed to the high court. Potassium chloride and a midazolam sedative were also used in the execution. McKesson decided not to appeal.

“We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “We are disappointed that the Arkansas Supreme Court has held our favorable injunction ruling in abeyance and delayed further scheduling in our case.”

Lee was also convicted of raping two Jacksonville women and was tried for the murder of Christine Lewis, the daughter of the late Alderman Robert Lewis. Lee was also suspected of killing a Jacksonville prostitute and dumping her body in a shed near the railroad tracks.

Lewis, 22, was abducted from her Sunnyside home in November 1989 as her 3-year-old child watched. She was raped and strangled and her body dumped in the closet of an abandoned home.

The jury could not agree on a verdict in that trial, but prosecutors decided not to retry him when he received the death sentence in the Reese case and was convicted for raping two women. DNA evidence tied Lee to the murders and rapes.

Reese was struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband gave her for protection while he was out of town on a truck driving job. Lee, who had just been paroled after serving time for burglary, was arrested an hour after the murder when witnesses reported seeing him walking on the street.

A 1994 trial resulted in mistrial when it was discovered that a relative of Lee’s was on the jury. During Lee’s retrial in 1995, a prosecutor offered a chilling description of Lee as a multiple rapist who hunted victims in a small area near the railroad tracks in Jacksonville.

In May 2009, the state Supreme Court upheld Lee’s death sentence and dismissed his claims he wasn’t properly presented at his trial. Lee had argued that his lawyers didn’t present witnesses he wanted at a hearing, had conflicts of interest regarding his case and failed to hire a death-penalty expert to advise them.

Lee’s appeal was one of a series he had filed since his sentencing. Previously, Lee won a rehearing on a portion of his case after showing his lawyer suffered from substance-abuse problems and likely was intoxicated during one portion of his trial.
Lee’s lawyer asked the jury to consider “who are we then to say” when someone dies.

The prosecutor later replied: “I will tell you who we are — we are the hunted.’’

The jury deliberated two hours before agreeing to the death sentence.

In an opinion in May 2009, Justice Robert L. Brown noted that Lee’s lawyer later testified that he didn’t hear the prosecutor’s remarks. Though the remarks likely were inflammatory, Brown said they wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the case.

“The jury ... heard testimony of the violent nature of the Reese murder during the penalty phase and also heard testimony that Lee had raped three different women,” Brown wrote.

In dismissing Lee’s other points, Brown wrote that defense lawyers are allowed to use their discretion in deciding which witnesses to present in a case. Brown said there wasn’t any convincing evidence that hiring a specialist for his case would have changed its outcome.

Brown also said Lee didn’t show that his lawyers failed him by not asking for an independent analysis of DNA samples. At a later hearing, Brown noted his lawyer said he didn’t think anyone other than the FBI could conduct such tests in the early 1990s.

Lee maintained his innocence and kept appealing his conviction until the end.