This paper will be staffing today’s executions. Look for coverage online at arkansasnews.com along with updates on Twitter @nlrtimes
Debra Reese was scared.
She called her mother, Katherine Williams, and told her that a man had come by her home on Cherry Street in Jacksonville asked if her husband, Billy, was there and then if he could borrow tools but she “did not trust this guy” her mother said later.
Reese told her mom, who lived just a few houses, that she would be coming over once she curled her hair.
Reese never made it to her mom’s house that Feb. 6, 1993 day. She was “brutally murdered” court documents said and Ledell Lee, 51, was convicted of Capital Murder in 1995 where he was sentenced to die by lethal injection.
After years and years of appeals, Lee’s execution is set for today, one of two executions scheduled that day and part of of what was eight executions scheduled in Arkansas this month.
“I don’t know if they’ll happen,” said Jerry Johnson, a retired Jacksonville police officer who was the lead investigator on the Reese case, of the executions. “Judges, you know and all the lawyers filing appeals.”
Reese’s murder was one of four homicide investigations Johnson had in his career in Jacksonville.
“They were all brutal, senseless acts of violence,” Johnson said.
The court documents tell a grisly tale of Reese’s murder scene.
“She had been beaten some 36 times with a tire thumper,” the documents said. A tire thumper was a tool described that looked similar to a baseball bat and has been given to her as protection by her husband when he was away working as a trucker.
In addition to being beaten, she had also been strangled.
The state’s theory was Lee, “had searched the victim’s neighborhood until he found the perfect target for his crime.”
That same morning in February, William McCullough Jr., who then lived near Reese, said a man had come by his home and asked to borrow tools. McCullough said he gave the man a “driver ratchet and a socket.”
Andy Gomez lived across the street from Reese then.
He told law enforcement he saw a man enter Reese’s home, then leave 20 minutes later with behavior so suspicious that it caused Gomez to go to his car and follow Lee.
Gomez saw Lee talking to a woman, later identified as Glenda Pruitt, who also lived in Jacksonville and knew Lee, who she called, “Skip.”
All three — Pruitt, Gomez and McCullough — identified Lee in a later police lineup.
Reese’s body was found that afternoon in her home. Three $100 bills were missing from her wallet.
That later proved to be evidence as the money was in sequential order from the Arkansas Federal Credit Union. The day of the murder, Lee paid a bill at Rent-A-Center with a $100 bill that was in that same sequence.
Jacksonville police believe Lee may have had a hand in at least two other murders in their city. Carolyn Johnson was killed and her body was dumped near the railroad tracks. Jerry Johnson said, “it got into the newspapers that she was a prostitute but that wasn’t the case.”
The other was Christine Lewis, who was abducted from her home in November 1989 and as her son, then 3, watched.
Lewis, whose father, Robert Lewis, was an occasional substitute teacher in Jacksonville and was also a city Alderman. She was raped, strangled and dumped in an abandoned home.
He also was convicted of two rapes and is serving a 60-year sentence and a sentence of life without parole, both for rape.
At the time of Reese’s murder, Lee was out on parole for a felony theft conviction.
DNA evidence was found that linked Lee to the Lewis murder. A trial in that case led to a hung jury and prosecutors dropped it after Lee’s death sentence, then under appeal, was upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Johnson had violent history
Stacey Johnson, 47, was convicted of killing Carol Jean Heath in 1993.
Heath had been beaten, strangled, and her throat had also been slashed at her duplex apartment in DeQueen on April 1, 1993.
Her two children, Ashley and Jonathan, were at the home at the time of the crime.
Johnson was discovered by her sister-in-law, Rose Cassidy, who had come by the next morning to find the door unlocked and Johnson “lying on the living room floor in a pool of blood,” appeals court documents said.
Ashley told her aunt, “ “[S]omebody had broke in” and when asked who, she said, “a [b]lack man.”
After finding Johnson’s purse in the woods between DeQueen and Horatio, investigators then found bloody clothing that was tested for DNA that connected Johnson to the crime.
A State Police investigator also interviewed Ashley.
What she in Hayes McWhirter’s notes was chilling.
“ I saw them fighting. Then I saw mother laying on the floor,” the notes said. “We were hiding in the closet. I came out the door to the bathroom and the black male had a knife in his hand beside mommy. She was on the floor bleeding. After he left, I went in and saw momma bleeding.”
Ashley identified Johnson after being shown photographs, he was arrested in Albuquerque, N.M.
Johnson was tried in 1994, but Ashley’s testimony was excluded because she deemed incompetent because of her age. Johnson was still convicted on Sept. 23, 1994.
Johnson was tried again with a case that started in 1997 and this time Ashley’s testimony was included and he was convicted in 1998.
This is not the first time Johnson has been sentenced to die.
Then Gov. Mike Beebe signed a death warrant and May 4, 2010 was set as Johnson’s execution date. It was stayed on a judge’s order.