Sometime after 1:30 a.m. on July12, 1985, 19-year-old Suzanne Collins went jogging near a Navy base north of Memphis, Tennessee. She never came back. Suzanne was kidnaped, beaten to death and sexually assaulted with a sharpened tree limb.
Sedley Alley was arrested almost immediately after Suzanne’s body was found. Police had arrested Alley at 12:10 a.m. on the morning of Suzanne’s murder, and after they released him, police kept him under surveillance, so Alley was easy to find. (Over the next 20 years, the authorities "forgot" to disclose Alley’s arrest, release and surveillance.) He admitted the killing, although the story he gave police was significantly inconsistent with the evidence. Alley pled not guilty by insanity, claiming he had multiple personalities and another personality must have killed Suzanne. With Alley’s confession in hand, it wasn’t hard to get a conviction and death sentence.
Famed FBI profiler John Douglas featured this case in his book Into The Darkness. He wrote that he had become friends with the Collins family and had said if anyone deserved the death sentence it was this man. For many, the reprieves Alley received over the years was frustrating. His execution was scheduled for May 17, 2006, but he won a short reprieve (until June 28th) while his attorneys, including Barry Scheck with the Cardozo Innocence Project, sought DNA testing of the murder weapon, Suzanne’s clothes and other items from the crime scene. On May 30, 2006, Judge W. Otis Higgs of Memphis denied Alley’s DNA testing request. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is now considering an appeal of Higgs’ denial. The same court rejected a similar appeal by Alley in 2004.
Jennifer Smith, a deputy state attorney general, said Alley's guilt is not in doubt and DNA tests, had they been available then, would not have changed his trial jury's verdict in 1987. But, as Scheck pointed out in oral argument, how do they know until they do the testing? And if Alley’s conviction is iron-clad, why does the state so vigorously oppose DNA testing?
Smith accused Alley’s lawyers of trying to open a new murder investigation. If Alley didn’t kill Suzanne, someone else did, and Suzanne deserves nothing less than a new investigation. Smith also says she’s concerned that allowing DNA testing in Alley’s case would "open up a door" to broader use of Tennessee’s post-conviction DNA testing law. To which we respond, so what? What is more important to the State of Tennessee, convictions or truth?