In 2006, a Tennessee man named Sedley Alley was executed for the 1985 murder of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Suzanne Collins. Like many on death row, Alley maintained his innocence to the very end. Unlike others, there may have been evidence to back up his claim of innocence. And it’s too late for such evidence to exonerate him, Alley’s daughter believes she may be able to rescue his reputation — and perhaps even find the real killer.
Lance Corporal Collins’ body was found outside the Naval Base where she lived in Shelby County, Tennessee. Witnesses said they’d seen a brown station wagon with green plates driving near the spot where Lance Corporal Collins was found, and police interrogated Alley — who drove a green wagon with blue plates. Alley, who had been discharged from the military for substance abuse, denied any involvement with the murder but later signed a confession saying he’d hit Lance Corporal Collins with his car before attacking with a screwdriver and a tree branch.
But the confession has a lot of problems. Autopsy reports showed Lance Corporal Collins wasn’t hit by a car or attacked with a screwdriver, and witness accounts didn’t line up with where he said he’d left the car. None of Alley’s hair, fingerprints or blood was found in or around the scene of the crime, and nearby footprints and tire tracks were not a match for either Alley’s shoes or car. The only witness who saw the driver of a station wagon that day described a man who was not a match for Alley’s height or hair color. Alley would later say his confession had been forced. But to no avail.
Since then, DNA evidence has become vital for crime solvers. In fact, DNA evidence has led to 370 exonerations since 1989, 80 of which came from false confessions and 21 of which involved death row inmates. In 2001, Tennessee said courts had to allow DNA testing if there was “reasonable probability” that the person asking might have been innocent. Alley and his lawyers did ask, saying that DNA evidence would not only prove Alley’s innocence but could even find Lance Corporal Collins’ real murderer, but the Tennessee Supreme Court turned them down. Alley was executed by lethal injection.
Now, his daughter April Alley is fighting to posthumously clear her father’s name. One of her father’s old lawyers believes she may even have a lead on the real culprit, a St. Louis man who’d been arrested for murder and multiple sexual assaults and had been enrolled at Lance Corporal Collins’ naval base not long before her death. Alley is fighting for DNA testing in her father’s case, despite the opposition of Shelby County officials who say the case is closed.
It won’t be easy. Tennessee is protesting Alley’s right to sue on her father’s behalf. But Alley’s legal team is pushing back, saying there’s just no other way to erase the lingering doubts that the state may have killed an innocent man.
The New York Times has more details here.