Daughter of executed man wants DNA to prove his innocence

Posted at 9:18 AM, February 4, 2021 and last updated 3:00 PM, July 14, 2023

By TRAVIS LOLLER Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The daughter of a Tennessee man executed 14 years ago for murder wants to test DNA evidence to prove his innocence. If the effort is successful, it would be the first time such evidence was used to prove someone was wrongly executed in the U.S.

Attorneys for April Alley presented arguments before the state appeals court on Wednesday.

Sedley Alley (Tenn. Dept. of Corrections)

Her father, Sedley Alley, died by lethal injection in 2006 after being convicted of the murder of Marine Lance Cpl. Suzanne Collins two decades earlier. Alley confessed to the crime, but later said the confession was coerced.

The process would have ended there if investigators in a Missouri murder case hadn’t contacted the Innocence Project in 2019 about a possible connection between Collins and a suspect there. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, had argued unsuccessfully for DNA testing in Alley’s case shortly before his execution.

Spurred by the idea of an alternate suspect, April Alley, as the executor of her father’s estate, petitioned a Memphis court in April 2019 to order DNA testing. The court ruled in November of that year that April Alley did not have legal standing to make that request. She appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Andrew Coulam told the three-judge panel in a virtual hearing that it need look no further than the plain language of the law to see that Sedley Alley’s estate is not entitled to seek testing. It allows a person convicted of certain crimes, including first-degree murder, to seek DNA testing.

“A probate estate is not a person, and certainly not a person convicted of a crime,” Coulam said.

Paul Clement, representing Alley, argued that the purpose of Tennessee’s DNA Analysis Act is to exonerate the innocent and to identify the true perpetrators of an offense.

“Both purposes continue to be served even after a person has served his sentence or been executed,” Clement argued.

Clement noted that the state is required to preserve the evidence even after an execution. What is the point of doing that if the evidence can’t be tested, he asked.

Coulam argued that both the state and crime victims have a right to finality of judgment.

Collins was 19 and stationed at the former Memphis Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee, when she went jogging in a nearby park on the night of July 11, 1985. Her body was discovered early the next day. She had been beaten, raped and mutilated.

“At some point this must end,” Coulam said. Victims should not have to receive a call “12 or 13 years after the death of the defendant to be told, ‘It’s started again.’”

Clement countered, “The victim’s interest is not served if the wrong person is convicted, and the real perpetrator is still at large.”