Estate of executed man has no standing to obtain DNA testing, judge rules

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A Memphis judge on Monday tossed a petition to obtain DNA testing in the case of a man executed 13 years ago.

Judge Paula Skahan ruled the estate of Sedley Alley did not have standing to petition for the DNA. The Associated Press, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the New York Times have coverage.

Alley had been convicted of raping and murdering a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps when she was jogging in a park near the former Memphis Naval Air Station in July 1985.

Alley had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He had confessed to the crime, but he maintained it was coerced.

In his confession, Alley said he was driving drunk and struck the woman with his car, then helped her into the car to get to the hospital, according to a prior Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in the case. He beat and killed her, however, after she called him a drunken bastard and threatened to turn him in, the statement said.

At trial, Alley unsuccessfully used an insanity defense based on multiple personality disorder.

Alley had told his daughter he didn’t remember committing the crime but if he did do it, he deserved punishment, according to the New York Times.

Details in Alley’s confession were at odds with the crime scene and autopsy, according to the Commercial Appeal. No physical evidence linked him to the crime.

Alley had twice sought DNA testing of items that included semen, men’s underwear found next the victim and material from beneath her fingernails.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, had helped argue for DNA testing shortly before Alley was executed, but the request was denied.

Earlier this year, Scheck received a call from investigators in St. Louis who said a man in custody in Missouri had attended the same avionics course as the murdered woman. The man was a suspect in a homicide and two sexual assaults, according to AP.

Skahan ruled that neither the estate nor its executor, Alley’s daughter April Alley, had standing to seek the testing. “Petitioner has not pointed this court to any authority stating that the execution of a family member is an ‘injury in fact’ for standing purposes,” Skahan wrote.

In addition, Skahan said, “This court is incapable of providing a remedy that would address any potential injury in this case. Mr. Alley’s sentence has been carried out—he has been executed.”

Skahan said she did not want to minimize the Alley family’s sincerely held belief that Sedley Alley is innocent. But an estate of a deceased inmate can’t seek DNA testing under DNA laws, post-conviction statutes, case law or post-conviction procedural rules, she said.

April Alley released a statement saying she was “heartbroken” and “numb” as a result of the decision.

The Innocence Project filed notice of appeal and obtained an order from Skahan preserving the evidence.

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