Washington, DC – On April 20, the state of Arkansas carried out the execution of Ledell Lee, ignoring the pleas of advocates and legal experts across the country. The Arc had urged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to commute this death sentence pending a full clinical evaluation to determine whether Mr. Lee had intellectual disability (ID). Following his execution, The Arc released the following statement:
“Today is a dark day for justice not just in Arkansas but across the country. The execution of Ledell Lee betrays the values of our legal system. If an evaluation of Mr. Lee had shown that he had intellectual disability, he would have been granted the protections of Atkins v. Virginia and subsequent Supreme Court decisions – protections that prohibited the use of the death penalty. Governor Hutchinson ignored the advice of legal experts across the country and Mr. Lee’s trial lawyers failed to properly investigate whether he had intellectual disability. These actions combined led to a gross miscarriage of justice that we will not soon forget,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
In a letter to the Governor, The Arc noted that the evidence presented by the neuropsychological expert in this case supports the conclusion that if Mr. Lee underwent a full evaluation, he would likely have met the three prongs of an ID diagnosis.
This evaluation was vital in this case because in its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with ID and banned the execution of persons with ID as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. Most recently, in Moore v. Texas (2017), the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.”
The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Ledell or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.
The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.