Sedley Alley: The search for the truth after execution

Sedley Alley was executed for murder in 2006 despite tell-tale signs of a wrongful conviction and DNA evidence that could have proved his innocence. Now, his daughter April has requested the DNA testing her father was denied.

03.01.19 By Innocence Staff

Sedley Alley: The search for the truth after execution

In 2006, Sedley Alley was executed by the state of Tennessee after the courts refused to conduct DNA testing that could have helped uncover the truth.

On May 1, 2019, his daughter April Alley, the executor of his estate, petitioned the Criminal Court for Shelby County, Tennessee for post-conviction DNA testing of the evidence in the case.

If April is granted these tests, it’ll bring a small measure of justice to their family: a chance to reveal the truth.


It’s too late for my father, but it’s not too late to find the truth. —April Alley 


Through various data sources, we know there is a high risk of executing an innocent person under America’s death penalty system. To date, 165 innocent people have been exonerated from death row. In a 2014 study published in the journal of National Academy of Sciences, Michigan law professor Samuel Gross and his co-authors estimated that 4.1% of people on death row in the United States had been wrongfully convicted.

We also know the tragic stories of people who survived death row, and those who were executed before they had a chance to prove their innocence.

Below you will read about Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos DeLuna and Ruben Cantu, who were all executed in Texas despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence. Frank Lee Smith was exonerated from death row by DNA but died of cancer in prison before his release. This piece also features the stories of death row survivors Sabrina Butler, the first woman exonerated from death row, and Ray Krone, who co-founded Witness to Innocence, the nation’s only organization of death row survivors and their families.


Recent landmark decisions

2019: New Hampshire legislature voted to repeal death penalty. Learn more.

2019: California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium on the death penalty under his tenure, a decisive step in eliminating the chance that an innocent person is executed in the state of California. The 737 people on California’s death row, the largest of any state in the nation, have been granted a stay of execution. Learn more.

2018: The Supreme Court in Washington State unanimously declared the death penalty unconstitutional, ruling it had been used in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. The decision makes Washington the 20th state to abolish capital punishment, and the third state supreme court to strike down the death penalty based in part on concerns about inherent racial disparities, joining Massachusetts (decided in 1980) and Connecticut (decided in 2015). Learn more.

Sedley Alley in the Navy. Photo courtesy of the Alley family.

Sedley Alley

Executed without a chance of DNA testing 

Execution: Lethal injection by state of Tennessee on June 28, 2006

Final Words: “Yes, to my children. April, David, can you hear me? I love you. Stay strong.” Alley then thanked the prison chaplain and said, “I love you, David. I love you, April. Be good and stay together. Stay strong.”

Sedley Alley was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins. There are numerous items of evidence–including men’s red underwear that police believed were worn by her attacker–found near Ms. Collins’s body that, if subjected to DNA testing, could provide powerful proof of innocence and even help find the real assailant. A leading expert has concluded that Alley’s confession was likely false because key details in his statement have been disproven by forensic evidence and other problems with interrogation procedures. Reinvestigation of the case over the years has shown that the evidence against Alley was weak.

In 2006, the Tennessee Board of Parole recommended that then-Governor Bredesen stay Alley’s execution and order DNA testing. Instead of exercising his power to order DNA testing, the governor directed Alley’s defense team to present their request for testing to the trial court in Memphis.

Sedley and April Alley. Courtesy of the Alley family.

The trial court incorrectly ruled that, in considering whether to grant a convicted person DNA testing, the court could not consider the ability of DNA testing to link crime scene evidence to a known individual through the CODIS database. The Tennessee appellate courts affirmed this decision, but reversed it five years later.  

In 2011, in State v. Powers, the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled Alley’s case and clarified that Tennessee’s post-conviction DNA analysis statute intended to prove innocence by searching DNA profiles from crime scene evidence in the CODIS DNA databank, which contains approximately 14 million profiles from convicted offenders.


The court or Governor Lee should order DNA testing. —April Alley 


If Alley were alive today, he would be entitled to DNA testing under the Powers ruling and the plain language of the post-conviction DNA analysis statute. The trial court was wrong in 2006, as the Tennessee Supreme Court made clear when it overruled its earlier decision to deny Alley’s request for DNA testing.

On May 1, 2019, April Alley, the daughter of Sedley Alley and the executor of his estate, petitioned the Criminal Court for Shelby County, Tennessee, in Memphis for post-conviction DNA testing of the evidence in her father’s case.