Was Sedley Alley wrongly executed in 2006 for the murder of Suzanne Marie Collins? Family insists on finding the truth
Sedley Alley was executed in 2006 for the 1985 abduction, rape, and murder of Suzanne Collins. His family insists he was innocent and has now requested for a DNA test
The daughter of a man who was executed in 2006 for the torture, rape, and murder of a woman has filed a petition in court seeking DNA testing of crime evidence which she hopes will prove her father's innocence.
Sedley Alley was convicted of first-degree murder in the July 1985 slaying of 19-year-old US Marine Corps Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins and sentenced to death because of the horrific nature of the crime.
Alley, a civilian who was married to an enlisted member of the military, was accused of abducting Collins while she was jogging at the Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington where he and she had both been stationed, and beating, torturing, raping, and murdering her. He is said to have then ditched her body at the nearby Edmund Orgill Park and fled the scene.
An autopsy found her skull had been fractured, and that a tree limb had been repeatedly shoved up her vagina with such force that it had penetrated her abdomen and torn one of her lungs. It ruled she had died from blunt force trauma to the head and internal hemorrhaging from the tree limb.
All the evidence seemingly pointed at just one culprit: Alley. Two marines jogging near where Collins was abducted had heard her scream and ran towards the sound, apparently catching a glimpse of Alley's car as it sped away. They reported the incident to base security, later identifying the car in the security office after it had been stopped by officers.
Alley and his wife were brought in for questioning but later allowed to return to their on-base housing after security personnel were satisfied with their alibi. The two marines continued to dispute the couple's version of events, insisting that the distinct sounds made by the muffler on Alley's car matched the sounds they had heard prior to Collins' abduction. But because no one had reported Collins missing, nothing further was done.
However, when her body was discovered the next morning by sheriff's deputies, Alley was immediately arrested by the military police. He then voluntarily gave a statement to the police admitting to having killed Collins, though his recollection of how the murder went down was nowhere close to the truth. His version of events included mistakenly hitting her with his car, and mistakenly stabbing her with a screwdriver, both of which were proven false by the autopsy. He later also claimed the confessions were coerced.
During his trial, attempts to convince the jury he suffered from multiple personality disorder failed. A Shelby County judge also denied his request for state-funded DNA testing of physical samples, stating he hadn't shown "reasonable probability" that he wouldn't have been prosecuted if the tests ad worked out in his favor.
In March 1987, Alley was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He was also convicted of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape, for which he received further consecutive forty-year sentences.
Originally scheduled to die by electrocution in 1990, numerous appeals eventually saw the date pushed back to 2006 — the amount of time between the murder and his execution was longer even than the number of years Collins had been alive. He was executed via lethal injection at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville in June 2006, with his daughter April Alley witnessing the event.
Her petition at the Criminal Court for Shelby County — the same court where her father was convicted — for the DNA test that was denied prior to his execution has opened the case once again. Speaking on the case, she said, "Watching my father die was so painful. I'm hoping I can get the answer, one way or another, that I want."
Barry Scheck, the co-founder of The Innocence Project, had helped argue for DNA testing before Alley's execution. That request was denied, only for the Tennessee Supreme Court to announce that the earlier ruling misapplied Tennessee's Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act. But by then, it was already too late for him.
Scheck said the renewed push for the DNA test came after The Innocence Project was contacted by an investigator from a different homicide case about a possible alternative suspect in Collins' rape and murder. The evidence he wants tested by the state includes a pair of men's underwear recovered at the scene.
District Attorney Amy Weirich insisted to AP that the case and conviction had been repeatedly scrutinized by state and federal courts for two decades and that Alley's guilt was established with "absolute certainty."
Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender, countered and said, after reviewing the case exhaustively herself, she found that Alley's attorneys had failed him by assuming he was guilty and trying to prove insanity. "As a former trial attorney, when I started looking at the evidence, I immediately recognized that this was a case of innocence," she said.
She pointed at numerous pieces of evidence which pointed to Alley not being the culprit, including the suppressed coroner's report which put the time of death at a time when he was known to be home after having contact with police over a domestic incident; how his and his car's appearance did not match witness descriptions; and court documents which showed Alley had confessed after 12 hours of questioning — he had later told his attorneys he had been drinking heavily prior to the interrogation and that he did not remember the murder.
Besides the petition in court, April's attorneys have written to Gov. Bill Lee requesting that he use his executive powers to order testing. When asked what he would do if the testing proved Alley's innocence, Scheck said, "We're not afraid of the truth. All we've ever asked for is the truth."