Today, April Alley, the daughter of Sedley Alley, announced that she is petitioning the Shelby County Criminal Court in Memphis for post-conviction DNA testing of the evidence in her father’s case. Ms. Alley is also asking Governor Bill Lee to use his executive authority to order DNA testing of the untested evidence.
Tennessee executed Sedley Alley in 2006 after he was convicted for the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins. DNA evidence from the crime scene was not tested in 1985 and has never been tested. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project and Vanessa Potkin, post-conviction litigation director for the Innocence Project, represent Ms. Alley.
A press conference with April Alley, Barry Scheck, and Vanessa Potkin was held today in Nashville to inform the public about this petition. Sabrina Butler Smith and Ray Krone, death row exonerees and members of Witness to Innocence, also spoke. Both Mr. Krone and Mrs. Butler Smith now live in Tennessee and frequently share their stories of wrongful conviction through TADP’s Sharing Our Stories program. Paul House and his mother Joyce, had hoped to be in attendance today, but Mr. House was unable to attend because of his health. He developed multiple sclerosis on Tennessee’s death row, which went untreated for many years. Mr. House was released after nearly 23 years on death row after DNA evidence demonstrated that he was wrongfully convicted.
Tennessee Federal Defender Kelley Henry, who worked on Sedley Alley’s case before his execution, as well as Tennessee attorney Stephen Ross Johnson were also on hand to speak about this case and the lingering questions of innocence that could be resolved if the DNA is tested.
Ms. Alley, the executor of her father’s estate, broke down at the conference as she tried to speak. Her request is simple: to find out the truth by testing the DNA. Every Tennessean should want to know the truth in this case, including the Shelby County DA’s office and the governor.
“There has never been a full and fair hearing on Mr. Alley’s guilt or innocence. This case has all the tell-tale signs of a wrongful conviction – a confession that has been demonstrated to be false by objective forensic evidence, mistaken eyewitness identification, and, most disturbing, the refusal to test DNA evidence that could have exonerated Mr. Alley or removed the doubts about his guilt,” said Mr. Scheck.
In 2006, on the eve of Mr. Alley’s execution, the Tennessee Board of Parole recommended that then-Governor Bredesen stay Mr. Alley’s execution and order DNA testing. Instead of exercising his power to order DNA testing, the governor directed Mr. Alley’s defense team to present their request for testing to the Tennessee court
Many items of evidence were presented for testing, including men’s red underwear that the police believed was worn by the murderer found near the victim’s body. Then-available DNA testing might have excluded Mr. Alley as the perpetrator or provided a match with another man in the CODIS DNA database. The Tennessee courts incorrectly ruled that Mr. Alley was not entitled to DNA testing, even if the testing could produce a match to a third party with a history of committing similar offenses. Five years later, the Tennessee Supreme Court expressly overruled Mr. Alley’s case in State v. Powers and clarified that Tennessee’s post-conviction DNA statute intended to allow a defendant to prove innocence by comparing DNA from a defendant to DNA from other potentially guilty people, including hits from the CODIS DNA databank.
Barry Scheck reiterated at today’s press conference, “The courts got it wrong in 2006 when they allowed Mr. Alley to be executed before testing the DNA. If Mr. Alley were alive today, he would be entitled to DNA testing under the Powers ruling and the plain language of the post-conviction DNA analysis statute. We now have a chance to learn the truth in this case.”
The Petition for post-conviction DNA relief details how a reinvestigation of the case over the years has shown that the evidence against Mr. Alley was weak.
For example, Dr. Richard Leo, an expert in false confessions, has analyzed the case and determined that Mr. Alley’s confession was likely false. Key details in Mr. Alley’s statement about how the crime was committed do not match the forensic evidence. For instance, Mr. Alley’s confession states that he hit the victim with his car. Autopsy records show that Ms. Collins was not hit by a car. Mr. Alley’s confession states that he stabbed Ms. Collins in the head with a screwdriver. Autopsy records show that she was not stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Mr. Alley told his daughter that he was coerced into confessing. He was highly intoxicated on the night of the crime, had no recollection of committing the crime, and did not believe he had done it.
Other physical evidence from the crime scene and eyewitness accounts do not match Mr. Alley. For example, the tire tracks found at the crime scene were not from Mr. Alley’s car. Recovered shoe prints were not from Mr. Alley’s shoes. A key witness’s description of a man with a station wagon where Ms. Collins was abducted described that man as 5’ 6-8” tall with short brown hair and a dark complexion. Mr. Alley was 6’4” tall, had red, medium-long hair, and a light complexion.
The Innocence Project began looking for evidence in this case again because they recently received a tip from law enforcement that someone who was indicted for a brutal murder and sexual assault in another state might be the actual perpetrator in the Alley case. This person went to the same military school as the Tennessee victim in the time leading up to the crime. There is also evidence about a jilted boyfriend who was an alternate suspect.
The media is covering this announcement and we will get you more information as it become available. If you want to learn more about this case, read the New York Times piece that was published today.
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