In Struggle

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

Yesterday was visit day.  It was going to be a special visit day because finally after six months of trying to get someone in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) to talk to me, I was going to meet the new warden and he was going to help me. For six months I had been trying to get approval to bring my iPad to visits so that I would have access to my speech assistive app.  Because of Lou (ALS), I am losing my ability to speak; this app will speak for me. Six months of closed doors, messages unanswered, phone calls unreturned, an Ombudsman office investigation that resulted in my request being denied, another fax, a new warden (who happens to have a close friend with Lou and who just happened to meet and speak to Rodney during a recent lockdown), another message left, and finally a call back. Yesterday was the day my iPad got approved and I have an official TDCJ IOC (inter-office communication) to prove it.

I was so excited that Rodney would get to see my iPad, that I'd get to show him the rudiments of how it works, where I write my blogs and jpays, where I do ALL my work. Also, I was so grateful that my looming inability to speak would not stop visit days.

As soon as Rodney was placed in the visit cage, I knew that the visit wasn't going to go as I had envisioned it all morning.  There was a heaviness in his face and a sadness in his eyes that I had not seen before.  Rodney's first words to his mom, Sandra and I were, "Judge Yeakel denied me."  Silence—the longest, most deafening silence ever at a visit.  He had just received Judge Yeakel's order earlier that morning and had only been able to begin reviewing its 27 pages.  The devastation, disbelief and shock were written in only a mother's anguish all over Sandra's face.  Me, with Lou as my constant teacher, I have learned to adjust to the "what is" pretty quickly and begin the "what's next” phase pretty quickly as well, so that and just watching Rodney's face and eyes was what occupied me totally for those very silent minutes.

From what Rodney had read so far, Judge Yeakel dismissed Medical Examiner Bayardo's declaration that the state got it wrong (see Jordan Smith's article) by calling it "suspect" because of the timing of when it was brought before the court.  This response is clearly, the standard AEDPA (Anti-terrorism Effective Death Penalty Act) response to any and every new piece of evidence that a defendant may bring before the court.  Essentially, the evidence and the facts simply do not matter when the procedural requirements of the AEDPA have not been met as deemed by the specific judge hearing the case.  "Timing" is a sacrosanct element of AEDPA procedural hoopla.  "Timing" is more important than the truth, than justice, than a human being's life—how could we have gotten to such a place? As citizens of this country, how can we allow this to continue?  How many innocent lives are too many?

Even in spite of this news, we eventually managed to spend some time playing with the iPad—well, me playing, Rodney watching wide-eyed and curious. We even managed to smile and laugh.  I can't even begin to express the gratitude I feel that his mom and I just happened to decide to go to visit on Monday instead of Tuesday.  That in some small way we could share the burden of that news with Rodney.  I pray that we were able to ever so slightly lighten and ease the loneliness, the isolation, the heaviness of Rodney's day.

The struggle will continue.  Bryce Benjet, Rodney's lead attorney will be speaking to Rodney today.  The next phase of demanding justice for Rodney has begun—please join me in any way you can to save Rodney's life.  For in saving one life we can save many!

Toward the end of the visit, Rodney kept saying to me over and over, "I need you to be strong for me."  I promised to do just that. The whole way home, all 170+ miles, all three hours and 15 minutes, all I kept praying over and over was "I need strength"—I trust that whatever amount of strength I need I will get. I won't let you down, dearest friend.