Family members speak out

“We are not going to be stopped!”

Sandra Reed
mother of Rodney Reed, who is on death row in Texas

I’d like to tell you the story about my son Rodney Reed, #999271, a number that he does not deserve. He sits on death row accused, convicted and waiting to be legally murdered for a crime that he did not do. He is accused of a rape and murder of a young lady by the name of Stacey Stikes in April 1996. Rodney was arrested one year later. It is a known fact that Rodney and Stacey were dating, even though she was engaged to a police officer.

Rodney had witnesses who would have testified to the fact that he and Stacey had a relationship, but they were never called. Rodney had an alibi witness, but the judge denied him for testimony. Why? There were hair, footprints, fingerprints found on her body and the vehicle–none belonged to Rodney. The hair found on her pubic hair belonged to a guy that she dated four to five years before her murder.

The state violated my son’s rights when it knowingly allowed false testimony from the fiancé, and it was capitalized on at the closing argument. The state suppressed longstanding information on the fiancé and other police officers who engaged in a pattern of brutality against suspects. And evidence that DNA was found on beer cans near Ms. Stikes body that implicated two police officers, one along with a mixture of her DNA.

Since then, I’ve learned there are members of the jury that if they had known what they know today, Rodney wouldn’t have been convicted.

This is what goes on in Texas in the belly of the beast.

I thought I was the only mother when it first happened. I thought I was the only mother that had a son innocent on death row–until I started visiting and meeting other mothers who also had the same problem. I realized that I was wrong, and that I’m not the only one. I’m not the first one, and I won’t be the last one, unless we stop this.

Roderick Reed
Brother of Rodney Reed

My name is Roderick Reed. My brother Rodney Reed and I are very close, and this has affected me tremendously in many different ways. As my mother stated, I thought that it was only us, our family–until we got involved. And I realize now that it’s not just us. It’s everybody that this affects across the whole United States. And this fight doesn’t just end with bringing Rodney home–it ends when this whole thing stops, when this whole system changes.

I pray to God every day that we get closer to that day when everything does change. I know that it will happen as long as we continue to come together as we have–speak strongly with conviction and believe in what we’re doing.

Donna Doolin Larsen
Mother of Keith Doolin, who is on death row in California

I think the common thread through these cases of innocence that we have is prosecutorial misconduct, judicial misconduct, police misconduct. We have ineffectiveness of counsel. You know, you would think that your attorney would be fighting for you, and they sit and do nothing for you. We have false identification, and then we have DNA that can be contaminated–all these threads run through these cases in some way, one facet or another.

We as family members are silent victims of all this, because there is no place for us to go. When this happened to us, I called a public defenders’ office, because I didn’t know of any organizations about the death penalty. I didn’t believe in it, but I hadn’t been a part of anything, because it didn’t affect me–not me! A schoolteacher and a nurse, oh no. Well guess what? It is me.

All of us have the ability to do something. Maybe we can’t do investigation. Maybe we can’t write a brief, maybe we can’t travel a long distance, whatever it may be, but there’s one thing that we can do. We can support each other by calling and by writing to the inmates themselves. We’ve brought families together on the inside, so I know it can happen.

So that is my challenge to you today–to do one thing to make it better on the inside, as well as the outside.

Monique Matthews
Sister of Ryan Matthews, who is on death row in Louisiana

I just want to start out by saying that I’m wrapped up and I’m tied up in the freedom crusade for Ryan Matthews. As a sister of a wrongfully convicted death row inmate, I feel cheated, I feel played. An unbelievable injustice has occurred in our lives. The system has neglected to do its job by failing my family, and my brother and I can’t believe that this actually happened in the land of opportunity.

The court system not only lynched Ryan Matthews. They also lynched the Matthews family.

I remember one day in the court, we were trying to bring some peace to Ryan and just make him laugh a little bit. And there was this detective standing off to the side, and he said, “Yeah, they’re all over there laughing now, let’s see how they’re going to laugh when the verdict comes back.” That merciless judge and jury–they had no consideration and no mercy for my brother’s life. But then again, how dare I expect mercy from a state where David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK, came extremely close to becoming governor of the state of Louisiana.

My mother had also sheltered us from a lot of things, especially racism. I never understood it, because I was never exposed it.

I had served in the United States Army during most of my brother’s life adolescent life, but serving my country made me feel that I was equal to all races and opened my mind. So upon my return I expected the world to accept me as I had accepted it. Jefferson Parish reminded me that African Americans were indeed different when being prosecuted. They made me realize that ignorance and racism is still alive and well in the South.

The outpouring of love and support from the Louisiana Crisis Center and the Catholic Church gives my family hope that there are some decent people left in this cruel world. And I hope that those conspirators who tried to murder my brother are losing sleep every night, pondering on how they put an innocent man to death.

Kim Hobley
Wife of Madison Hobley, who was exonerated and freed from Illinois’ death row in January 2003.

One of the things that I learned in seeing Madison’s case was that if God wasn’t able to use the Church, he’ll raise up someone to be used. Agnostics, atheists, it doesn’t matter — he will make a way out of no way, I saw him do it.

I want to give encouragement to those like Louva Bell — who saw people delivered from death row, like Manual Salazar and Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson, and Madison and Aaron Patterson, and they’re still wondering. One of the things I wondered when Manual Salazar was delivered was: What about me? When is my turn? I want you to know your turn will come.

One of the things that we can’t do is become embittered by these injustices. We must use these injustices to move us on. Because that righteousness is so much greater than the corruption in the system. When you see people from all walks of life come together — people who didn’t know Madison, standing outside in the cold Chicago weather, handing out flyers for a man they didn’t know — that’s love.

Just be ready for that day when victory comes, so that you can walk in gracefulness — that you know that even though you may not get the credit, that it is due you.

To the Campaign, for all that you’ve done, for the flyers, for the demonstrations for the phone calls, the e-mails, for the contributions that you’ve made — know that you have made an impact on people. An eternal impact that is far lasting and far greater. Thanks for all your help.

Louva Bell
Mother of Ronald Kitchen, whose death sentence was commuted by former Illinois Governor George Ryan.

We’ve been fighting a long time. It’s been a real struggle, but it’s going to take all of us to get rid of this death penalty. We all have to keep fighting whether we’re in Chicago, or in Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Louisiana. It’s going to take all of us to really fight this struggle. As long as I can, I’m going to be fighting. I want you all to do the same.

Brenda Lewis
Daughter of Costella Cannon, a member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty who died earlier this year. Costella was the mother of Frank Bounds, who died of medical neglect on Illinois’ death row.

My mother left a legacy, and it was really wonderful to see how many lives she has touched.

I celebrate the release of those who were exonerated and the progress that has been made. But there’s still a lot of progress to be made. And what I wanted to ask you all to do is to stand up. I want you all to shake off anything that has been hindering you up until this point–to say that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

There’s a lot of progress that has been made, but there’s still a lot of work and progress to be done, and we cannot allow anything to hinder us any more. So let’s shake it off and say, “We are not going to be stopped!”

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