Ledell Lee, an innocent man who had been on Arkansas death row since 1995, was executed on April 20, 2017, despite overwhelming evidence that he was intellectually disabled, evidence that had never been considered by any court due to two decades of repeated failures by the attorneys charged with protecting his life. In 2002, the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities, noting that they “in the aggregate face a special risk of wrongful execution,” Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304.
Arkansas put Mr. Lee to death despite the availability of DNA testing – never completed – that might well have exonerated him. The ACLU, the Innocence Project, and others fought to the last minute for his defense and to prevent his execution.
Since his original trial, Mr. Lee’s case had been characterized by inadequate counsel, including one lawyer who was intoxicated and another with serious mental illness, and the trial judge’s conflict of interest due to his extramarital affair with Mr. Lee’s prosecutor.
Mr. Lee’s execution was one of the eight Governor Asa Hutchinson originally scheduled in assembly-line fashion between April 17 and April 27. The state rushed to execute Mr. Lee and the others because its stock of the failed lethal injection drug, midazolam, was set to expire April 30.