Family of executed man seeks to have DNA in case tested

By Updated: June 03, 2019 5:29 PM CT | Published: May 12, 2019 9:16 AM CT

April Alley watched as her father was executed by lethal injection in 2006 for raping and murdering a 19-year-old Marine in 1985.

<strong>Sedley Alley</strong>

Sedley Alley

Now, she is fighting to find out if her father, Sedley Alley, committed the crime. She has petitioned Shelby County Criminal Court to test the DNA evidence in the case. The petition for post-conviction testing of the DNA was filed April 30.

The case is a first of its kind, using DNA evidence in an attempt to clear someone already executed.

“The next step is the court will docket the case and will determine whether or not to have a hearing on the petition. We don’t have a date on when it is docketed yet. It is still being determined by the court system in Memphis,” said Stephen Ross Johnson, lead counsel in Tennessee on the case along with the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project is based in New York but has chapters in all 50 states. The organization argued for DNA testing in the case before Sedley Alley was executed 13 years ago. The request was denied, but in 2011 the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the lower court’s ruling was incorrect. The argument was that the court's interpretation of the post-conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001 was incorrect, according to the petition that the appeals court upheld.

<strong>Suzanne Collins</strong>

Suzanne Collins

Also, a recent tip from law enforcement raised questions. It raised the possibility that another man, recently indicted for a homicide and rape, may be connected to the rape and murder of Lance Cpl. Suzanne Collins.

As a result of the court ruling combined with the tip, the Innocence Project decided to reopen the Sedley Alley case, according to a recent news release.

“This is the first case like this in the country,” Johnson said. “There have been other cases where certainly people have been exonerated and come off death row. There have also been situations where DNA testing (was done) after someone died in prison, but this will the first one where someone was subjected to capital punishment and then their DNA tested.”

In a recent email sent by her legal team, Alley, who is the executor of her father’s estate, said: “I just want the truth. The DNA evidence should have been tested before my father was executed. It’s too late for my father, but it’s not too late to find the truth. The court or governor should order DNA testing.”

In addition to filing the petition for the post-conviction DNA testing, the legal team has asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to use his executive authority to order testing of the untested DNA evidence.

The evidence includes red men’s underwear found on the scene, along with clothes and weapons used in the attack, including a tree limb used to sexually assault Collins. The evidence is still housed in Shelby County Criminal Court, and the legal team for the Innocence Project sent a team to check and make sure the evidence is still intact.

The death of Collins rocked the community. She was found dead in Edmund Orgill Park, just outside the naval base in Millington, on July 12, 1985. Collins had been stationed at the base and had just finished a course in avionics. She was set to graduate from the air training school the day her body was found.

On the night Collins was kidnapped, she left the base and went for her nightly 10-mile run. The next day, her body was found in the park. She had been brutally beaten – struck 100 times, strangled and sexually assaulted with a tree branch.  

Sedley Alley, whose wife was stationed on the base, was arrested the following day and charged with Collins’ slaying. He confessed to the crime but later said the confession was coerced and that he could not remember what happened because he had been drinking heavily the night of the murder. He was convicted in March 1987 and sentenced to death. His execution was set for May 1990.

He appealed his conviction and death sentence multiple times. He also filed petitions to have the DNA in the case tested. His petition was denied. He was executed June 28, 2006, at the Riverbend Maximum Security prison in Nashville with his son and daughter there as witnesses.

“It is extraordinarily important from the perspective of wanting to find the truth,” Johnson said in a recent phone interview about the petition to test the DNA. 

Johnson said the truth “is always important," and it's important in Sedley's case because the perpetrator could still be alive and free if DNA testing clears Alley.

Shelby County Dist. Attorney Amy Weirich joined the DA’s office in 1991, four years after Alley was convicted. She was elected as district attorney in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014. She said her office is reviewing the DNA petition.

“This case and the conviction were scrutinized repeatedly by state and federal courts at every level for 21 years,” Weirich said in a recent email. “In 1989, the Tennessee Supreme Court said, ‘Defendant's guilt in this case was established at the level of absolute certainty,’ yet the efforts to make the defendant a victim continue to this day. What we are focused on right now is contacting the family of Suzanne Collins and reviewing the petition to determine next steps.”

After her death, the parents of Suzanne Collins established a scholarship in her name. The first scholarship was awarded in 1996. Collins, who would have been 52 now, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Sedley Alley Death Penalty Shelby County District Attorney’S Office
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.

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