Lee has kept his innocence to the end, claims the lawsuit, which asks the court to order the city of Jacksonville and its police department to release DNA samples and fingerprints to be tested and managed through national databases.
“My family hasn’t been able to rest for the past two and a half years, knowing that my brother has been murdered by the state of Arkansas for a crime we believe he didn’t commit,” said plaintiff and sister Patricia Young. Lee, an ACLU statement.
What happened to the murder victim, Debra Reese, was “horrible,” said Young. “But I was with Ledell the day this murder occurred and I don’t see how he could have done it.”
Evidence should be released because it is considered public records under the Freedom of Information Act, the lawsuit says.
Jacksonville city attorney Stephanie Freedman rejects this argument.
He provided CNN with an email which he sent to the mayor and city council members explaining that “physical evidence of Lee’s DNA is not a public record and is not open to the public.”
“Also,” said the email, “if the City were to release this evidence, there is a possibility that the evidence will be destroyed, further violating the evidence retention laws.”
CNN contacted the Jacksonville police department and the mayor’s office for comment.
“All we want is to finally know the truth”
Lee was convicted of capital murder in 1995.
Reese, 26, was found dead in February 1993, strangled and beaten with a small wooden club. Many of Reese’s neighbors told police they saw Lee nearby, but the lawsuit claims that those descriptions contained “significant inconsistencies”.
“No physical evidence directly linked Mr. Lee to the murder of Ms. Reese,” says the lawsuit. The evidence was also “misinterpreted” during the trial, he says, citing recent reviews by forensic experts.
ACLU and Innocence Project lawyers joined Lee’s defense team shortly before his execution, and have continued to investigate ever since.
The lawsuit hopes to urge the release of evidence. First are the hairs taken from the bedroom where Reese’s murder took place, which according to expert testimony belonged to a black person.
There are also scrapings taken from under Reese’s fingernails, which the ACLU said “are very likely to contain the DNA of his killer” and five fingerprints at the crime scene.
The lawsuit includes an admission by Lee’s post-conviction counselor who was struggling with substance abuse and lacked adequate resources at the time he represented Lee. As a result, Lee’s defense investigations were inadequate.
“Since Ledell’s execution, we have uncovered a wide range of new evidence to support his claim of innocence,” said Nina Morrison, senior legal adviser to the Innocence Project. “All of this evidence should have been presented to the courts while Ledell was still alive, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t afford a quality defense.
“The lack of completeness in Ledell’s investigations helps explain how this happens and we hope that the Court will finally allow us to find out the truth.”
Lee’s sister Young said, “If Ledell is innocent, the person who did it has never been caught. All we want is to finally know the truth.”
CNN’s Amanda Watts contributed to this report.