Texas Man Remains on Death Row Despite New Evidence

Screen grab via NBC News Rodney Reed was sentenced to death after he was found guilty for the sexual assault and murder of Stacy Stites in 1996, though he claims the two were in a consensual affair.

Cole Tamarri

Managing Editor

Since the landmark Furman v Georgia case on cruel and unusual punishment in 1972, the state of Texas has carried out 568 executions of inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

That is more executions than the other 28 states that have the death penalty combined in that timeframe.

Rodney Reed, a 51-year-old Black man from Bastrop, TX has spent the last 22 years on death row for the murder of Stacy Stites, a 21-year-old white woman. Reed is scheduled to be executed Wednesday, Nov. 20.

What has brought this case from 1996 back to the forefront of media attention is an affidavit written by the cellmate of Stites’ then-boyfriend and police officer Jimmy Fennell, Arthur Snow, in which Snow details how Fennell justified his actions, “Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancé,” according to an article by Vox.

Fennell was released from prison on parole in 2008, after serving a ten-year prison sentence for kidnapping and “improper sexual activity” with a person in his custody, according to Texas Department of Corrections records.

In addition to Fennell’s conduct creating questions around the validity of Reed’s guilty sentence, the jury at the initial trial was an all-white panel.

That automatically flies in the face of  the sixth amendment to the Constitution of the United States which says “In all criminal proceedings, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury…”

Given the information presented above, Reed was not given a fair trial under the provisions provided by the Bill Of Rights.

Historically, the kind of trial Reed was given would be considered a “Jim Crow trial,” according to the definition by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Further debasing the initial verdict was the fact that while DNA evidence placed Reed with Stites, Reed maintained that that was the case because they were having an affair behind Fennell’s back, not because he was at the scene of the crime that night, according to a court deposition obtained by the New York Times.

Witnesses called to the stand on Fennell’s behalf were at best, unreliable according to court documents, referring to the victim as “Stephanie” instead of Stacy, and continually changing details of their accounts during cross-examination periods.

As a result of the piling evidence that trust this case into the spotlight, celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill, Pusha T, Eric Andre, Beyoncé, Oprah, and Cynthia Brown Long have signed the petition on a website called freerodneyreed.com, which at the time of publication has nearly three million signatures.

Screengrab via KXAN
Rodney Reed sits in the Bastrop County Courthouse in Bastrop, TX during an appeal on Sunday, Oct, 13.

The petition implores Texas governor Greg Abbott to do one of two things: grant clemency to Reed or grant a stay of execution. 

According to a 2014 study by “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” one in 25 people sentenced to death are innocent, or 4.1 percent. However, since 1973, only 144 people in total have been exonerated which is a meager 1.6 percent. 

Further complicating matters in the push to stave off the Nov. 20 execution is that Abbott was formerly the state’s attorney general, and during his term, he fought to uphold Reed’s conviction, according to The Intercept. During that 12 year term, Abbott’s office executed 278 people, including Cameron Willingham, who in post-mortem was found innocent, according to the New Yorker.

According to Austin’s NBC affiliate, KXAN, the Texas appeals court will give Reed’s lawyers until 4 p.m. on Nov. 13 to file written responses in the case regarding the judge who signed Reed’s execution order, Doug Shaver, and whether or not he was properly appointed to preside over the case at the time of the execution order.  

Reed’s lawyers contend that Shaver had filed for retirement 17 days after signing the order, and that he was in no position to sign such an order. His legal team wants another Texas appeals judge, Carson Campbell to void the execution order, thereby delaying the Nov. 20 execution. 

Those interested in more information on Rodney Reed can find it at freerodneyreed.com.

Email Cole at:

ctamarri@live.esu.edu

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