Rodney Reed is facing an execution date of March 5, 2015, and was recently denied important DNA testing that could prove his innocence. Rodney has been on Texas death row since 1998. He was convicted of killing Bastrop woman Stacey Stites in 1996. In March of 2006, Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett (daughter of the original trial judge) heard testimony from several witnesses which linked Stacey’s fiancée and former police officer Jimmy Fennell to the crime. The defense also showed how some of this eyewitness testimony was hidden from the defense at the time of trial. However, both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the federal 5th Circuit Court ruled to deny relief. Hidden eyewitness evidence is not the only problem in this case. Consider these facts:
- The prosecution’s only evidence linking Rodney to the crime was semen DNA taken from Stacey’s body. However, defense attorneys at trial failed to call witnesses to testify to a known sexual relationship between Rodney and Stacey, which would have accounted for the DNA evidence. They also failed to call two alibi witnesses.
- During the initial investigation the main suspect was Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell, who was Stacey’s fiancée. Fennell failed a polygraph test on the question “Did you strangle Stacey Stites?”
- Police failed to search Stacey and Fennell’s apartment, the last place she was known to be alive. Additionally, police released the truck Stacey was driving the night of the murder to Fennell, who sold the truck a few days later..
- Two beer cans found at the scene of the crime tested positive for the DNA of at least one police officer. This test was not reported to the defense at the time of the trial.
- At the 2006 hearings, Martha Barnett testified to seeing Stacey and Fennell together the morning of the murder. Mary Blackwell testified that during a police academy class she overheard Fennell saying that he would kill his girlfriend if she cheated on him, and that he would strangle her with a belt, which was how Stacey was killed. Both women testified that they had shared their stories with the prosecutors at the time of trial.
- Defense attorney’s have shown a pattern of violence on the part of Fennell, including his history of stalking and threatening former girlfriends. Fennell was recently sentenced to prison for the rape of a woman who was in his custody while he was on duty as a police officer in the city of Georgetown, TX.
- Rodney Reed, a black man, was found guilty of murdering Stacey Stites, a white woman, by an all white jury in Bastrop. Statistics have shown that racial bias exists in the application of the death penalty, including the fact that although over 50% of murder victims are black, over 83% of the victims in death penalty cases are white.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
3. Share the recent New Abolitionist article about the case on social media.
6. Read and share the Justice for Rodney Reed blog. Rodney’s friend, Caitlin Adams, wrote beautiful stories about her visits with Rodney before she passed.
7. Host a screening of the documentary State vs. Reed, which is an incredible resource for showing the facts of the case. You can find it online here. A new, shorter video about the case called Framed also updates the case with new witnesses interviews.
8. Get involved with Texas activists who are fighting for Rodney’s freedom. E-mail [email protected] for more information.
Judge rules against Rodney Reed
Evidence of innocence should matter
By: Marlene Martin
Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed suffered a disappointing setback when federal district Judge Lee Yeakel ruled on August 13 against compelling new evidence of Reed’s innocence.
As many readers of the New Abolitionist are aware, Rodney was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Semen is the only evidence linking Rodney to the crime. Rodney says that he and Stacey had been seeing each other, on and off, for a while. There are other people who can vouch that the affair was taking place. In fact, 11 people were prepared to speak to this fact at Rodney’s trial, but only two were called on.
Jimmy Fennell, Stacey’s fiancé and a police officer, was overheard saying he would strangle his girlfriend if he found out that she was cheating on him—in fact, he said he would strangle her with a belt to avoid leaving fingerprints. This is exactly the method by which Stacey was killed.
No fingerprints of Rodney’s were ever found anywhere on the truck that Stacey drove the day she was killed or anywhere near where the body was found. In fact, police investigators said they couldn’t rule out fingerprints found on beer cans at the scene as belonging to one of the police officers, and a friend Fennel’s as a match. Fennell failed a polygraph test twice when asked, “Did you kill Stacey Stites?”
Very little of this information was presented at Rodney’s original trial.
And now, in a written statement, the medical examiner who examined Stacey’s body and testified at Rodney’s trial has come forward to say that Stacey was not vaginally raped. Instead, the examiner wrote, “It looks like Stites suffered from an anal rape”—one more likely committed with a “rod-like instrument, such as a police baton.”
This damning evidence seems again to point to Jimmy Fennell, who is currently in prison, having pled guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman while on duty at another job after Stites’ death.
Also importantly, the medical examiner, Roberto Bayardo, is taking back another crucial fact in the case. At Rodney’s trial, he said that sperm found in Stacey’s body had been deposited “quite recently,” meaning not long before Stacey’s death. Now, Bayardo has written, “In my professional opinion, the spermatozoa I found in…Stites’ vaginal cavity could have been deposited days before her death.”
All of this strengthens what Rodney has been saying all along—that he had consensual sex with Stacey the day before she was killed. Rodney’s lawyers were asking for an evidentiary hearing, a retrial or Reed’s immediate release in light of this evidence.
But Judge Yeakel ruled against Rodney, saying the evidence was “suspect” because of the timing of when it was brought to the court. Caitlin Adams, who visits Rodney regularly and writes the moving blog about that experience “Tales from Death Row,” wrote this about the judge’s ruling: “This ruling is clearly the standard Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) 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?”
Caitlin, along with Rodney’s mom Sandra, happened to be on a visit when Rodney got the news of his denial. Caitlin describes it on her blog, “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. The devastation, disbelief and shock were written in only a mother’s anguish all over Sandra’s face.”
As Rodney, his family and activists struggle with this setback, we are also preparing ourselves for a new phase of the struggle. As Caitlin writes, “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!”
For more information about this case, including links to important news coverage please visit our Get the Facts page for Rodney.
And please read and share Caitlin Adams regular blog about the Rodney Reed case
From Texas death row, the case of Rodney Reed
By: Marlene Martin
These days, it’s not shocking to hear about an innocent person on death row, so it won’t be surprising to learn that Rodney Reed is just such a person.
Rodney has been caged on Texas death row for the past 14 years. He was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites in the town of Bastrop, Texas. But it seems that the only thing Rodney is guilty of is being Black and daring to have a relationship with a white woman, who was engaged to a white police officer, Jimmy Fennell.
Early on the morning of April 23, 1996, Stacey failed to show up for work. That afternoon, her body was found in a wooded area. She had been strangled to death with a belt, and her body lay partly clothed in the grass. Several beer cans were found at the site. The pickup truck she usually drove to work, which belonged to Jimmy Fennell, was found miles away in a high school parking lot.
The only physical evidence linking Rodney to the crime was semen found in and on Stacey’s body. No hair, skin or fibers connecting Rodney to the crime scene or the truck were found anywhere. Rodney says that he was seeing Stacey off and on, and the two were intimate in the days before she was killed.
At Rodney’s trial, the state presented evidence not challenged by his lawyers that Stacey had been raped at or near the time of the murder. But prominent forensic experts have since confirmed that there is essentially no evidence of rape—and that the evidence merely suggests that Rodney and Stacey had sex within a week of her death.
In the small Texas town where Rodney lived, people were likely to take notice of the relationship between Rodney and Stacey. In fact, 11 people were prepared to speak at Rodney’s trial or had written affidavits attesting to the fact that they had seen the two together. But only two of these witnesses were heard from at the trial.
The state claims that Rodney abducted Stacey and drove her in the pickup truck to the wooded area where she was found. But none of Rodney’s fingerprints were found in or on the truck. Only prints for Stacey and her fiancé Jimmy were found. Rodney’s fingerprints likewise weren’t found on the murder weapon, nor on Stacey’s name badge nor anything else found at the crime scene.
There are huge holes in the state’s case against Rodney. For example, Jimmy Fennell, a former Giddings, Texas, police officer, has failed two lie detector tests when asked the question “Did you strangle Stacey Stites?” Yet Fennell was never pursued as a suspect. “Why wasn’t he?” asks one of Reed’s first lawyers, Jimmy Brown. “It makes no common sense…It was clear he’d failed the polygraph—not once, but twice. My question to the state was, how is that? Why do you not consider him a suspect? There was no answer.”
The pickup truck that Stacey is believed to have driven the morning she died was given back to Fennell just six days after the crime, and Fennell promptly sold it. Police never searched the apartment Stacey and Jimmy shared, the last place she was known to be alive.
A friend of Stacey’s, Ronnie Reveal, told investigators, he talked with Stacey shortly before her death. “… She seemed quite a bit down. She told him that her and her boyfriend were having problems and also that the boyfriend had a violent temper.” Reveal was never called to testify at trial.
Police never searched the apartment Stacey and Jimmy were living in, which is the last place she was known to be alive. According to other police officers this would be standard practice.
When Stacey’s body was examined by investigators, they saw that her nails had been cut to the quick, but not filed—something a police officer would know to do to lessen the chance of being identified by fingernail scrapings. This was never presented to the jury.
Since his conviction, Rodney has won an evidentiary hearing where he was able to present evidence never heard during his original trial. For example, prosecutors had withheld from Rodney’s lawyers the fact that the two beer cans found at the crime scene were tested for DNA. The report excluded Rodney, but stated that the cans contained a mixture of DNA that might have come from Stacey and two police officers. One of these officers committed suicide before Rodney’s trial, and the other was a good friend, co-worker and neighbor of Jimmy Fennell.
Subsequent DNA testing of the beer cans ruled out Stacey and one of the officers, but the other officer couldn’t be ruled out as a DNA match.
Had this information been presented at trial it would have been devastating to the state’s case.
Also not presented at Rodney’s original trial was the testimony of two important witnesses. One, Mary Barnett, saw Stacey and Jimmy in the midst of an argument in the parking lot of a convenience store in the early morning hours on the day she was murdered. This was at a time when Fennell testified he was at home and asleep. This eyewitness account was conveyed to the district attorney before Rodney’s trial, but never disclosed to the defense.
Another witness, Police Officer Mary Blackwell, said she heard Fennel, in a police academy class, say that if he ever found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him, he’d “strangle her, and would avoid leaving fingerprints by using a belt.” As it turned out, Stacey was killed with a belt. Blackwell also witnessed Fennell being abusive toward Stacey. Again, this information was transmitted to law enforcement, but was never followed up, nor disclosed to the defense.
Despite this compelling evidence presented at Rodney’s evidentiary hearing in 2006, Judge Reva Towslee Corbett, the daughter of the original trial judge in the case, ruled against Rodney. She signed a lengthy ruling that was copied verbatim from a document prepared by the state, denying all of Rodney’s claims and saying, in essence, that the evidence wouldn’t have affected the jury’s decision.
In 2008, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals denied Rodney again, sending his case back into the federal courts, where it remains.
“I hope and pray for his freedom everyday,” says Rodney’s mother Sandra Reed, who is an active abolitionist, “ He’s tired. I’m tired. We’re all tired. It has caused a strain across the board, not just for Rodney, but also for all of us because we are a family. It’s hard.” She goes on to say, “I never dreamed that the truth would be covered up for 14 years. There is such corruption in the justice system.
If they had just let the truth be told, Rodney would have been home a long time ago.
I am someone that always believed in the justice system. I thought, well, nothing is perfect, but that the good outweighs the bad. But, it appears that the bad outweighs the good when it comes to the justice system. Now I see, it’s all about greed, money and power.”
The Reed family along with activists from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other abolitionist groups have marched in Bastrop and participated in the annual Texas abolition marches. Sandra Reed speaks on panels and at marches to try to help her son, but also to advocate for an end to the death penalty. The Reeds have a banner hanging outside of their house that reads, “Innocent man on death row, Free Rodney Reed.”
One person who noticed the banner in front of the Reed’s house is Caitlin Adams. She moved to Bastrop in 2010 and, curious about the sign, approached family members one day when she saw them on the porch. Since then, Caitlin has written about the case and visited Rodney many times. She has created a blog that brings to life the humanness behind the prison walls where Rodney is unjustly imprisoned.
Caitlin does this even as her own health deteriorates from ALS, a neuromuscular disease that is weakening her muscles, making it difficult for her to walk and speak. But she feels she was meant to meet Rodney, and the encounters with him have given her a fresh outlook on life:
“I’m reminded with every visit what the important things are in life,” she says. “I’ve visited Rodney, almost weekly since September, and I can only tell you he is inspiring to me, a good person and friend. I’ve spent a lot of time researching his case, and I am convinced he is completely innocent.”
Activists in Austin and Bastrop have plans to show the excellent documentary about Rodney’s case State vs. Reed in the community center in Bastrop. “We have to keep the pressure up, we can’t leave it up to the courts, because they have failed Rodney for the past 14 years,“ says Lily Hughes.
While activists are convinced of Rodney’s innocence, there are those who are not. Rodney’s detractors point to several allegations of abuse toward women. But Rodney was never prosecuted for any of these allegations, except one, where Rodney was acquitted at trial.
Nevertheless, the facts of this case speak for themselves: the many instances of misconduct by police, the botched investigation, the withholding of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors, and the inadequate defense during the original trial. All of this at the very least should mean a new trial for Rodney—something that Rodney, his family, friends, and activists are still hoping for.
In fact, there is mounting evidence pointing to Jimmy Fennell as the likely suspect, an avenue that Rodney’s defense team continues to pursue. In 2008, Fennel pled guilty after being charged with kidnapping and raping a woman in 2007 while on duty as a police officer in the city of Georgetown, Texas. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence.
Bryce Benjet, one of Rodney’s current lawyers, says, “We have developed a trove of evidence that shows that Rodney is innocent and suggests that Jimmy Fennell, assisted by others, murdered Stacey and dumped her body in the woods. Based on his racist and violent nature, Jimmy Fennell certainly had motive and opportunity to kill Stacey. Further, his leaving her body in a remote location matches his conduct in two other attacks on women. We are confident that the federal courts will listen to the hard facts of the case and give Rodney the new trial he so clearly deserves.”
Rodney remains hopeful that “justice for all” will one day include him and is thankful for the efforts of activists on his behalf.
For more information about this case, read the comprehensive articles written by Jordan Smith for the Austin Statesmen.
How you can help:
- Sign and circulate the online petition for Rodney.
- Join Rodney’s Facebook page.
- For more information or to download a fact sheet about Rodney’s case, visit the Get the Facts section of our website.
- Read and share this new blog about Rodney on our website:
Tales from Death Row: Justice for Rodney Reed
Recently, the CEDP began publishing a regular blog by Bastrop, Texas, resident Caitlin Adams. After meeting the family of Rodney Reed outside of their home in 2011, Caitlin began visiting Rodney, and continues to do so on a regular basis. Her blog posts are incredibly moving; filled with humor and pathos. Caitlin brings Rodney’s spirit beyond the prison walls.
Caitlin’s writings are regularly featured on our front page. Please pass around the blog and follow the blog on Twitter.
Rodney Reed’s Appeal Denied, but the Fight Continues
By: Matt Korn
Yet again, the State of Texas is coming close to executing an innocent man. Rodney Reed, who has been on Texas’ death row since 1998, was denied an appeal to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in January, clearing the way for the courts to issue a death warrant. Reed was convicted in Bastrop, TX of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, the fiancée of Jimmy Fennell Jr., a police officer in nearby Giddings, TX.
Reed, who is Black, and Stites, who was white, had been having a sexual relationship unknown to Fennel, a jealous and violent cop who is currently serving a 10 year sentence for raping a woman while she was in his custody.
Fennel’s violent past is not the only reason why Reed’s supporters believe he is innocent, and that Fennel is a far more likely suspect. Reed’s appeal to the 5th Circuit was based on a number of claims, including ineffective counsel and actual innocence. Reed and Stites had been having a consensual sexual relationship, a fact well-known in the community and attested to by numerous witnesses.
The State’s central piece of evidence: semen belonging to Reed that was found inside Stites’ body, and prosecutors claimed it could not have been deposited more than 24 hours earlier. This “temporal link” was a crucial part of the State’s case against Reed, but it was based on such flimsy evidence that even the Travis County Medical Examiner, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, now believes that intercourse must have happened at least 24 hours before her death, fitting the scenario of a consensual relationship between Reed and Stites.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of evidence to show that Reed is innocent. DNA evidence found on beer cans at the scene of the crime matched another police officer David Hall, who was a good friend of Jimmy Fennel. This evidence was never handed over to the defense and so the jury never heard it.
Fennell was originally the prime suspect in the case, and he failed a polygraph test twice on the question “Did you strangle Stacey Stites?” A witness saw Fennell and Stites together on the morning of the murder, and numerous witnesses shared with prosecutors at the time of trial their knowledge of Fennell’s violent past, which was confirmed by his current incarceration for rape. And as with many other death penalty cases nationwide, Reed faced an all-white jury at his trial.
The news has devastated Reed’s family and supporters. “I’m in shock that they can deny Rodney, with overwhelming evidence, a new trial,” says Sandra Reed, Rodney’s mother and a long-time anti-death penalty activist. She said that the witnesses to Rodney and Stites’ relationship were deemed non-credible by the appeals courts because they were close family or had criminal backgrounds. But she also said that Ms. Kay, a well-respected bail bondswoman in Bastrop, filed an affidavit attesting to the relationship.
The court’s response was to issue a gag order to Sandra Reed and Ms. Kay, disallowing them from making statements in the trial or to the media about the case. “How can you say he did and put me in a position where I can’t say he didn’t?” asked Sandra Reed.
Despite this setback, the Reed family is finding lots of support from fellow anti-death penalty activists. Delia Perez Meyer, the sister of Louis Castro Perez, another man wrongfully incarcerated on Texas’ death row, says she and other death row families also make a “strong family of abolitionists…. Sandra has been so strong for the last 15 years, ever since Rodney and my brother Louis went to death row.”
Meyer praised activists for mobilizing within 24 hours of the 5th Circuit’s decision, and has high hopes for the potential to stop Rodney’s execution and to abolish the death penalty overall. “They’re making a huge mistake…the death penalty is coming unglued” she said, adding that more and more people are having their convictions overturned and that widespread police and prosecutorial abuses are coming to light. She also noted that one 5th Circuit Court judge who was on her brother’s review panel, Edith Jones, is under a rare misconduct review for unbelievably racist statements she made during a University of Pennsylvania Law School lecture.
Meanwhile, Rodney Reed’s supporters have vowed they will never give up the fight to save Rodney and end the racist death penalty. “Now is the time for folks to get involved…we will be launching a campaign to fight against any execution date that is set” said Lily Hughes, National Director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Activists are drawing from the successful 2007 campaign to stop the execution of Kenneth Foster, Jr. They are ramping up a multi-pronged campaign that includes petitioning, street protests, clemency letters to the Governor, and other strategies intended to shame the courts and elected officials into using their power to stop Rodney’s execution. “[For Rodney] all we’re looking for is fairness…let the truth come out in a new trial,” said Sandra Reed, but she added that “the death penalty must go, I will continue regardless. So many people have been killed, and I don’t want their deaths to be in vain.”
Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed
By: Caitlin Adams
As of today, Rodney has been wrongfully imprisoned 5,786 days. Death row is in the midst of the first lockdown of 2013. Thankfully, Rodney did not have any belongings confiscated during the recent shakedown. Rodney just had his cell changed, so he no longer has his “sunset” view. He told me at our visit on February 1 that he already misses his view and his red tail hawk visits. He is now housed on B pod, second tier, cell 79—a corner cell with no view.
At present, Rodney’s case remains with federal district Judge Yeakel for reconsideration. Rodney’s defense teams have presented their salient filings, the state has responded, and the defense has presented its final filings at the district level. Several important court decisions were rendered during this filing period that have possible direct bearing on Rodney’s case. The first being the U. S Supreme Court decision to hear the Trevino v Thaler case (11-10189), which is of major importance for criminal law. The petition for Texas death-row inmate Carlos Trevino argued that lower federal courts have denied prisoners like him the opportunity to test their convictions and death sentences in federal court on grounds that their defense lawyers were deficient during state court proceedings.
In the Supreme Court’s decision last March in Martinez v. Ryan, the Court made a significant exception to the long-standing rule that a state prisoner cannot pursue a challenge in federal habeas court if the inmate failed to bring up the challenge first in state court. In Texas, the Martinez ruling has essentially been ignored by the lower federal courts because apparently Texas “sometimes” will allow a state prisoner to bring up an ineffective lawyer claim prior to a post-conviction proceeding. The fact that that “sometimes” is murky may be the impetus behind SCOTUS agreeing to hear the case. Rodney’s Martinez claim is a very important element of his request for relief. Rodney’s initial habeas attorney, Bill Barbish, has written an affidavit that has been submitted to the court stating that he was ineffective in representing Rodney in his initial habeas appeal; this has been initially dismissed by Judge Yeakel, basically because Martinez has been dismissed summarily in lower federal courts as it regards Texas. So, Trevino v Thaler could be extremely important for the course of Rodney’s case from here.
The recent granting of a new trial to Cathy Lynn Henderson by the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals has also opened some doors for Rodney. This ruling states that when inaccurate, outdated forensic science is used at trial, it denies the defendant a fair trial. This is a key and critical issue in Rodney’s case, especially with the recent declaration by former medical examiner, Robert Bayardo (who was the prosecution’s primary forensic expert) that the state “misconstrued his testimony” and that he had made “errors” in his evaluation of the evidence. Judge Yeakel had called Bayardo’s declaration “highly suspect” and dismissed it when he denied Rodney relief. The defense not only had Bayardo’s declaration, but also the testimony of two forensic experts, Drs. Riddick and Singer, to substantiate the fact that the DNA evidence put forth by the prosecution was not scientifically valid. In these most recent filings, the defense added another highly credentialed forensic expert’s testimony as well, Dr. Joseph Warren, to further bolster the reliability that the state got it wrong. Another prosecution witness, Meghan Clement, testified that in her experience examining rape kits (which is not directly about the evidence in Rodney’s case), she had not seen sperm survive more than 24 hours. Her specific testimony was rebutted by Dr. Warren; Ms. Clement has subsequently stated that if she were called to testify, she would state: 1) the processing of a rape kit can damage sperm, which could explain why in her scope of practice she did not encounter intact sperm after 24 hours. 2) Her testimony was not based on the forensic literature.
The third and final forensic “expert” who testified for the state as a crime scene technician, Karen Blakely, did not have the credentials to testify as an expert per Dr. Warren. When Ms. Blakely was contacted about this issue, she declined to comment.
Another important element in the recent filings has been addressing an “omission” by every state and federal court that has reviewed Rodney’s case up to this point—an affidavit by James Robertson, testifying that Rodney and Stacey’s had a consensual relationship. This affidavit has been presented for over 10 years now and it seems that the courts have simply ignored it. Mr. Robertson knew both Rodney and Stacey independently of each other—he knew Stacey from Smithville High School and Rodney from the neighborhood. The critical element here is independently. Rodney’s defense team has specifically drawn the court’s attention to this affidavit as well as another affidavit from Mr. Robertson’s wife, verifying that the affidavit was written by her husband and that he had spoken to her regarding Rodney’s case and the contents of the affidavit on numerous occasions. Mr. Robertson is an active duty marine who was unavailable to respond when two law students affiliated with Rodney’s defense went to verify the validity of the affidavit. Every other witness that knew of Rodney’s relationship with Stacey has been dismissed by the courts as not credible, so this testimony is essential and critical to establishing that Rodney and Stacey were involved romantically, which completely destroys the prosecution theory of a stranger abduction, rape, and murder.
There in a nutshell, in layperson terms, is where Rodney’s case is as of today, February 4, 2013. The Supreme Court, in the Martinez ruling, swept away some of the procedural obstacles to true due process; in the Trevino ruling they have the opportunity to put Texas on notice (although we all know how Texas reacts to being put on notice, Ruiz v Estellecomes to mind). If Judge Yeakel denies Rodney relief again, the 5th Circuit is the next hurdle on the horizon.
Happy Birthday, Soul Man
Caitlin Adams is a resident of Bastrop, Texas. After meeting the family of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed outside of their home earlier this year, she began writing with Rodney. She has developed a friendship with Rodney’s mother Sandra and his family in Bastrop, as well as making regular trips to death row to visit Rodney.
After learning about the facts of Rodney’s case, Caitlin has become an advocate for Rodney Reed – here we present the first of many blogs from Caitlin about her journey for justice:
Happy Birthday, Soul Man
By Caitlin Adams
“Christmas” Birthday Syndrome is not cited in the DSM IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but experienced by all the children I knew growing up who had a birthday on or around Christmas.
Rodney’s birthday is December 22 and at our last visit, he confirmed that he too suffered from “CBS”; birthdays that came and went with no big fuss, and no special outing or celebration – because everyone was so busy preparing for or cleaning up after Christmas. Bah Humbug!
However, one year, the Grinch missed stealing Rodney’s birthday. It was his 10th birthday – the year of the midnight metallic blue, banana seat bicycle, that his Gramma bought for him his birthday. The bike every kid in the neighborhood envied and wanted to ride, even his brothers!
Rodney was in story-telling mode at this point and me, well, I was all ears! He segued swiftly and smoothly into a story of an early life lesson – where chicken sandwiches come from. His Gramma sent him out to the chicken coop to catch a chicken. He was unsuccessful, managing only to get the whole coop in a frenzy.
His Gramma came out, promptly caught and killed a chicken and, much to Rodney’s dismay, boiled the chicken. Lo and behold, she wanted Rodney to do the “defeathering” honors! Needless to say, it was a long time before Rodney wanted a chicken sandwich again!
And right on the heels of his chicken tale, he spoke of how his insatiable curiosity led to a terrifying face to face encounter with a hog in the smokehouse.
We don’t usually talk much about his birthdays on death row. When I asked the question, “What do you want for your birthday?”, his answer was “To be free.” That startled me back to the harsh reality of the glass partition, the isolation, the confinement, and another year of unjust imprisonment. My hope, my wish, my prayer, for you dear Rodney is a “free” birthday in 2012. Happy Birthday, Soul Man Roscoe!
Caitlin Adams is a resident of Bastrop, Texas. After meeting the family of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed outside of their home earlier this year, she began writing with Rodney. She has developed a friendship with Rodney’s mother Sandra and his family in Bastrop, as well as making regular trips to death row to visit Rodney.
After learning about the facts of Rodney’s case, Caitlin has become an advocate for Rodney Reed – here we present the first of many blogs from Caitlin about her journey for justice:
By Caitlin Adams
I moved to Bastrop, TX in March of 2010 and that is the how, when and where this blog really began.
I’ll tell you a little something about myself; I don’t believe in accidents. I believe there is a purpose for everything, whether I am aware of that purpose or not. In early December 2010, I happened to be out riding my bicycle around the neighborhood and I rode by a home that had a banner outside, “Innocent Man on Death Row: Free Rodney Reed”.
I had many reactions to seeing that sign. I am and have always been opposed to the death penalty. I thought about that banner often over the next few weeks. I knew I wanted to learn more about this man, Rodney Reed, and the family who believed in his innocence. Serendipity, and a sense that something more is going on than meets the eye, is what led me to ride down MLK that day, so I prayed to know what God might be asking of me, what purpose my seeing the banner needed to serve.
My world was turned on it’s head in October 2009 when I learned that I have an untreatable, terminal illness; ALS. Something inside me felt connected somehow to this man’s story – a death sentence sucks, sorry, but that is just plain true. I kept praying, and one day got this answer, “If you are out riding one day and someone is outside talk to them.”
The next day I went out riding and as always I was riding without really thinking about where I was going – before I got sick used to do that on 100 mile bike rides! I ended up on MLK and as I was riding by Rodney’s home, Sandra, his mom and Rodrick, his brother were outside. I hopped off my bike and introduced myself. Sandra, Rodrick and I talked for almost 3 hours that day. They spoke about Rodney, a son, brother, father, and innocent man on death row. They spoke of the case and encouraged me to watch a documentary film, State vs Reed. I saw a family devastated by tragedy, yet firm in their love and commitment to their loved one. I asked what I might be able to do to help.
Over the next few months I got to know Rodney’s family, and they got to know me. Rodney and I began writing and getting to know each other. I began to really study his case: I read everything I could find, watched the documentary, State vs Reed, talked to David Fisher (an independent investigator), and read court documents. I believe without a doubt that Rodney is an innocent man, unjustly and wrongfully convicted.
In September of this year I began visiting Rodney weekly with his mom, other friends, or alone. We’ve become good friends over these past 9 months and I am very grateful for his and his family’s friendship and for this opportunity to bring attention to Rodney, his story and this egregious miscarriage of justice. I hope you, the reader, will join us in the fight for Rodney’s life.
Update on Rodney Reed’s case
By: Bryce Benjet
Here we are happy to have Rodney’s tireless appeals lawyer, Bryce Benjet, offer a short update on the latest news in the case:
Followers of Rodney’s case know much of its tumultuous history, and the significant evidence of innocence. Much of this is detailed in a piece by Jordan Smith in The Nation magazine.
The most recent development in the case a new opinion from Dr. Roberto Bayardo, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy in the case and testified for the State. Having reviewed his work in the case and the opinions of the habeas experts, Dr. Bayardo does not now believe that the presence of Mr. Reed’s sperm and DNA indicates anything other than a consensual affair. In fact, he believes that the condition and amount of the sperm indicates a sexual encounter at least a day before Stacey’s death. The crux of Dr. Bayardo’s statement is that the State twisted his opinions at trial to falsely accuse Rodney. Dr. Bayardo’s opinion is one of a number of forensic experts who have now disagreed with the State’s theory that Rodney raped and murdered Stacey. In over a decade of litigation, the State has never presented a single expert witness to contradict any of the scientific opinions exonerating Rodney.
Despite the important breakthrough of Dr. Bayardo’s statement, the federal district court has denied Rodney’s case. We are currently appealing the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and will continue to pursue every legal option and investigate any information we receive to find the truth in this case.
Staff Attorney, Innocence Project
New York, NY
This update was originally posted by Caitlin Adams on the Facebook support page for Rodney. We encourage folks on Facebook to like an share this the We Demand Justice: Free Rodney Reed! page.
Stand With Texas Death Row Prisoner Rodney Reed.
DROP THE DATE! TEST ALL THE DNA!
By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Monday, July 14, 2014
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, along with the family and supporters of Rodney Reed rejects the decision today to issue a death warrant for innocent Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed for January 14, 2015.
We have long believed in Rodney’s innocence and, during a hearing today in Bastrop County, we once again heard of the multitude of evidence that could prove Rodney’s innocence if given a fair hearing either through a new trial or through the appeals process.
We learned today that the state has agreed to important but limited new DNA testing of some crime scene evidence – and that the defense is asking for even more DNA testing of several other items related to the crime scene.
While important evidence is being tested and interpreted, and while other testing is being considered, it is both irresponsible and cruel for the state to seek an execution date and for the warrant to be issued by any judge. This amounts to torture for both Rodney and his family, who now have to live under the threat of an specific execution date, even as Rodney’s defense team and supporters fight to prove his innocence.
As Rodney Reed’s mother Sandra said about the decision to grant the death warrant, “We’re very disappointed…We were thinking everything was possibly gonna be positive about the hearing today, but it was a very disappointing outcome. But the thing is that we remain to stay strong and especially for him – Rodney is strong and the truth keeps us strong. It’s not over until it’s over.”
Despite the obscene injustice that took place in Bastrop today, Rodney’s family and supporters stand strong in our determination to fight to save the life of Rodney Reed.
Rodney’s defense will continue to work on getting all the DNA tested, as well as still working for appellate relief on issues around the misinterpretation of scientific evidence. There is a chance that the Supreme Court could hear the case – an announcement would likely be made in late October if that were to happen.
And Rodney’s family and supporters have vowed to keep up the fight outside the courthouse. We are planning a rally on July 24th at 11 am outside the Bastrop County Court House to call the State of Texas to account for it’s role in seeking the death warrant and to demand that all the DNA be tested in this case.
Now is the time to get involved in the struggle for justice and to save Rodney Reed! We have seen to many times how innocent people are caught up by an unjust system. People like Anthony Graves, released off death row after years of struggling to prove his innocence, like Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas despite proof of his innocence revealed long before his execution took place.
Or people like Yusef Salaam, who was exonerated decades after being wrongfully convicted of rape in the infamous Central Park 5 case in New York. Today Yusef offered these words in support of Rodney, “My brother Rodney, like too many others, has been railroaded onto death row by the racist system of criminal injustice. Corruption and vengefulness has turned Rodney’s life – and that of his family into a living nightmare, one the thousands on death row know all too well – the innocent and guilty alike. We must shout Rodney’s name from the rooftops: we will not let the state of Texas take him from us!”
Real Justice, not Cowboy Justice, for Rodney Reed!
By: Kevin Cooper
Kevin Cooper is an innocent man on California death row and and a longtime activist with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. His case is the subject of the book Scapegoat: The Chino Hill Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper by J. Patrick O’Connor. Here he offers these words of solidarity for innocent Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed.
Mr. Rodney Reed, who is an innocent African American Man on death row in the state of Tex-ass (Texas), is in the fight of his life, for his life! He and his family are doing something within a state that has a proven historical record of the fact that it cannot, and for the most part has never been fair to him it its judicial system.
Since its founding, the state of Tex-ass (Texas) has shown that it cannot on its own be fair to all of its citizens. Especially its poor and minority citizens. It now must be forced to do so in the tortured case of Rodney Reed.
Tex-ass (Texas) loves to hand out cowboy justice, which in fact is no justice at all! We want and demand that this cowboy mentality be set aside so that Mr. Rodney Reed and his family can once and for all receive real justice within this case, because it’s screaming out for real Justice!
How can the state of Tex-ass (Texas) honestly claim to be correct in the case of Mr. Rodney Reed when there is so much evidence that not only undercuts or undermines all that the state has said and is saying, but helps to prove all what Mr. Rodney Reed and his family, attorney(s) and supporters are saying?!
How can the state of Tex-ass (Texas) claim to be so right in any case, especially this one, when history has proven that they have in fact been so wrong in so many other cases in the past and have in fact executed innocent people! Many of those cases had less evidence supporting those people that Mr. Rodney Reed has within his case!
America as a whole, and Tex-ass (Texas) especially, manages inhumanity very well, just as long as it’s kept isolated to the poor and minorities and kept away from its middle and upper classes within its state and this country.
This is why, beside its arrogance, that the state of Tex-ass (Texas) feels so comfortable denying Mr. Rodney Reed not only his constitutional rights, but also his day in court, as well as his universal right to life. All Mr. Rodney Reed is asking for is what those so-called founding fathers said we citizens of this country are allowed to have, what we are entitled to have, which is this: a fair trial, and a trial free from governmental interference. None of which Mr. Rodney Reed has ever had in his case in Tex-ass (Texas)!
It is way past time for Tex-ass (Texas) to do the right thing in this case of Mr. Rodney Reed! We are here to say to them and to all who need to be told, that despite the historical and ongoing mindset of certain people in power, the lives of Black people do have value within this world, country and state of Tex-ass (Texas), especially that of Mr. Rodney Reed!
In Struggle & Solidarity,
A Conversation with Sandra and Rodrick Reed.
By: Lily Hughes
Rodney Reed’s family has been at the forefront of a 17 year struggle to prove his innocence and win his freedom from Texas’ death row. Recently, Rodney’s mother Sandra, and brother Rodrick, sat down to talk with Lily Hughes about their disappointment in the courts, the need for DNA testing, and the pain of facing an execution date.
THERE’S A clemency process that’s already started, and we hope that you will have an opportunity to meet with the new governor, Greg Abbott, or perhaps members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to talk to them about why they should grant clemency. What you would say to the governor if you did get a chance to meet with him face to face?
Sandra: What we’ve been saying all along! Rodney is an innocent man. He was wrongfully convicted. He didn’t get a fair trial, and they used Jim Crow tactics to convict him. It’s not that they use Jim Crow tactics with every trial, but they used it with him.
We just want the new DNA testing. We want the truth. That’s all we’re asking. The only evidence that was presented was his DNA, and it was old. And you have nothing else–I mean nothing to link him to this case. How is it that you have enough merit to take a life–over old DNA? He was dating her!
There was a box of evidence that Judge Towslee ordered sealed–locked away. We never knew what that was until recently. Now, at this last hearing, there were two boxes when there should have been one, and they both were unsealed. That, to me, spells corruption. All I’m asking for is fairness. Give my son a fair shake. He never had a fair shake in the beginning. That’s all we’re asking.
And from my point of view, no matter what, you still shouldn’t take a life. Thou shalt not kill. What happened to the Ten Commandments? That’s all I have to say.
Rodrick: I would say to him that we just want to be treated the way he would want his own treated. We want the same thing he would expect if he were in our shoes. Fairness. Equality. We’re not asking for anything special. We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We’re just asking for what’s right.
Sandra: And if you have thousands of people out here who believe in him, what does that say? There is a shadow of a doubt…Twelve jurors were deceived. I still don’t know how they thought they had enough to do what they did, but I do believe they were deceived.
RECENTLY, AT a hearing here in Bastrop in front of the trial judge, he denied important DNA testing. And of course, there’s been a string of denials from the courts over the years, whether it’s the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals and, more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court. How has that affected your view of the court system and the way the criminal justice system operates?
Sandra: I’ve told people over the years that I was very naïve as far as the justice system is concerned. I thought that if anything went wrong, all we had to do was take it to court, because that’s what the United States stands for: fairness without a shadow of a doubt.
But when it came down to my son’s case and the hearing and the way the trial went, it just went plumb Jim Crow.
There were witnesses waiting to testify, but never called. They made me a possible witness for the prosecution and never called me. The judge denied the alibi witness from testifying. And sitting there during that process, there was nothing I could do. I had no knowledge of the law itself, I didn’t have the funds, and I was denied the ability to testify for my son.
It felt like I was chained and bound. There was nothing I could do but stand there and watch them railroad my son. Over these last years–17 or 18 years of fighting–I have to say: Thank god for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Because you guys know what’s going on and what happened to me.
You wouldn’t have known what happened to Rodney if you hadn’t been concerned about right and wrong, and what did happen. And I am a proud member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Traveling over the years, and speaking and meeting exonerees from death row and other family members speaking out–that encouraged me to keep right on fighting for my son. This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us.
They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake. And being Black, you have that mark against you. Looking back at Martin Luther King and how he fought for our rights, I thought, well, we have our rights now. But I realize we don’t. We never had equality.
AND THE courts have completely failed us.
Sandra: The courts have completely failed us. Right. Absolutely.
SO WOULD you say that winning justice from the system requires taking MLK’s route?
Sandra: It’s a hard row to hoe, especially when racism is still rampant. Things are better on the surface, but within, it’s still there, and it still hurts. It still affects people.
It’s undercover slavery. That’s what I feel. The government is building all of these prisons. Why? And most of the people are minorities. The justice they’re carrying out is legalized murder. Murder is murder.
Yet we’re willing to sacrifice our young men and boys to go over and fight for somebody else’s rights. And we don’t have our own backyard cleaned up? We’re killing our own. That’s what I got out of this–there’s no justice in this so-called justice system that we have.
Rodrick: There’s some justice, just us.
RODRICK, DID you have anything else you wanted to add about the courts?
Rodrick: Yes. I believe the courts are very, very misleading, because you think that justice will be blind and everyone should get a fair shake. But the reality is that if you don’t have the capital, you’re going to get the punishment. If you’re poor, you’re not going to get proper representation. If you’re mentally handicapped in any kind of way, you’re not going to get a fair shake, and that’s not right.
So the bottom line is that there’s a lot of work to be done in the justice system, and it’s not going to happen until we come together and use what we have to make it better. In cases like my brother’s case, once we bring him home–which I pray that’s the way it goes–then the fight keeps going. That racism, that injustice, that corruption is still there. And that’s the roots that we have to try to dig up.
SWITCHING SUBJECTS, I think that both of you have been down to see Rodney fairly recently, and we were wondering if you could talk about how he’s handling everything?
Sandra: I haven’t seen him since the hearing, because there have been other people, such as his sons, who have been visiting. I wanted them to have as much visitation as they could, because over these 18 years, he hadn’t seen his sons. When he was convicted, his sons were six or seven–maybe not even that old. But they’re now grown, and they have their own kids, so they’ve been visiting.
His granddaughter lives in California, and her mother put her on the plane, and her father picked her up in Dallas–and wow, they just had a wonderful, beautiful visit. Each visit was four hours. Monday, they got two visits in the same week for four hours, and I think that was wonderful.
So I want those kids to visit as much as they can, and other people who are in his corner and hadn’t seen him. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. He only gets a one visit a week, and so that makes it kind of tough. But he’s strong.
Rodrick: Yeah, he’s real strong. He’s real positive. You go down there with the expectation of trying to lift his spirits up, and…
Sandra: He lifts yours.
Rodrick: He lifts yours. And I think it’s all possible because of God, and all his supporters and friends and family who believe in him and support him. That keeps him strong, that keeps him positive, that keeps him going. If it had been me, I’d be crazy as a bug, but he’s strong.
Sandra: His support is strong, and his family, we’re right there with him. If he can just see our faces and see how strong we are, it keeps him strong.
Rodrick: We keep each other strong.
Sandra: He’s doing as well as can be expected. And of course, our faith is strong and I’m optimistic. Yet I have to face reality of how this justice system has treated my son over these 18 years, with the denial of everything. I’m hoping and praying. I can’t see how, with all of this information and evidence pointing to Rodney’s innocence, Greg Abbott would deny him clemency, but who’s to say?
THAT BRINGS me to my next question. How are you all doing? I know this is not an easy time, and it never is. What do you want to say about the death penalty, and the way it creates a whole new set of victims?
Rodrick: Myself, I’m tired.
Sandra: He’s tired. We’re all tired.
Rodrick: I’m tired, but I’m strong. I’m going to keep my strength, and I’m going to push on as far as I can and do all that I can do, and I’m going to let God do the rest. But I think that it’s very stressful. I’ve aged–I’ve got more gray hair and a face full of gray. It has an effect.
All in all, we’re good. And I know it will get better. We all have points where it’s like, how much more can we take? How many more denials? How many more years? How many more days?
Sandra: And on top of dealing with everyday life, I have six sons, and all of them have their issues. Their issues are mine, and I worry. Not as much as I used to when they was coming up. Now that they’re in their 40s and 50s—
Rodrick: Don’t tell them my age! (laughter)
Sandra: I’m telling mine accidently! But, you know, when it rains it pours. There’s going to be times where everything happens at one time. But we’re maintaining. It’s a struggle, but we’re maintaining. And me being the mother, words can’t even express what I’m feeling now at this phase. I could tell you but you wouldn’t really know.
Rodrick: The words can’t describe it.
Sandra: I can sit here and tell you right now how much I’m grateful to you guys, and the words aren’t enough.
Rodrick: They don’t even do it justice.
Sandra: Words can’t even express what I’m feeling. At this phase of the game, I’m strong. I’m optimistic. Knowing what this system has done to us, I can’t believe it until I see it now. I have to touch it now. So that’s the best I can do, but I’m praying to God that he gives me the strength to endure whatever.
Rodrick: Somebody told me yesterday, “I’m really proud of you for the work that you do for your brother. I think you’re doing a good thing. I’m so proud of you.” I looked at her and I said, “To be proud of me for doing something for someone that I love is not a big deal. What moves me is people who do something for someone they don’t even know–a stranger.”
That’s what gives me strength. When we have people like you who are not related, who didn’t even know Rodney, but you came in and you gave up your time and your money and everything you can give to help support us. Because it’s easy to do for someone that you love. Anybody does that. But to do something for a stranger who you don’t know even know–that says it all.
Sandra: But see, you’re God’s angels to me. I know we’ve discussed that before, but you are.
He assigned you, whether you believe in Him or not, to do this. It’s His work. Through you guys. Those petitions that we attempted to submit to the DA! Eleven thousand signatures!
AND NOW it’s over fourteen thousand.
Sandra: The signatures of people who we don’t know!
Rodrick: That’s what I’m saying. We have to be here. And if we’re any kind of good family and love our family, we have to do the things we have to do. But for all the hundreds and thousands of people trying to help us, that’s something to be proud of.
Sandra: Because if it was up to our family, we would be screwed, glued and tattooed!
THAT BRINGS us to the last question: Is there anything that you want to say to people who already support Rodney? What can people be doing right now that helps the most?
Sandra: What helps the most is do what you’ve been doing. I thank each and every one, the thousands and possibly millions of people that have viewed that documentary State vs. Reed and took an interest. I thank them all.
Rodrick: I thank you all, and I’m proud of you, because that’s doing something–when you’re in a situation where you don’t have to be, but you chose to be in it. You chose to be in this fight. You can sit down on the sidelines and watch it go down, but you said no. I stand up and I’m going to represent.
Sandra: How long have we been in this together? Fifteen years.
Rodrick: That means the world to me.
Sandra: And I love all of you.
New evidence makes clear: Rodney Reed must be freed!
By: Lily Hughes
On February 23, just days before his scheduled execution date, Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed was granted a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA).
In the preceding months and years Rodney’s many advocates — his family, his legal team, and supporters from around the world — have fought to stop the execution and to make the courts to finally recognize the truth: Rodney is innocent of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas.
BALL IN THE CCA’S COURT
The order for the stay from the CCA was in response to a new appeal filed by Rodney in early January, which includes explosive new findings regarding the time of death of Stacey Stites, the victim in the case.
In the course of filming a recent A&E special about Rodney’s case (Dead Again: Dead Man Talking), an investigator came to the conclusion that Stacey was murdered several hours earlier than the time frame advanced by the original medical examiner and the prosecution at trial. Further examination of the forensic evidence by other experts proves that Stacey was murdered closer to 10 PM, placing her in the apartment she shared with her fiancé and former police officer Jimmy Fennell at a time when Fennell claimed to be home.
In their response to the State’s motion to dismiss the new appeal, Rodney’s lawyers argue that “Absent from the State’s Motion to Dismiss is any evidence contradicting the compelling scientific proof and factual accounts which establish Mr. Reed’s innocence…The State’s Response appears to be aimed solely at preventing any meaningful inquiry into the growing body of evidence that the State convicted the wrong man for the murder of Stacey Stites.”
The lawyers further describe how the new conclusions about the time of death came about. “This discovery was made on October 21, 2014 by a disinterested retired NYPD homicide investigator, Det. Sgt. Kevin Gannon as part of
his review of the evidence for the television crime show ‘Dead Again.’ From his review of the crime scene photos, video, autopsy report and law enforcement investigation reports, Det. Sgt. Gannon noticed evidence of decomposition pointing to a longer post-mortem interval and lividity patterns showing that the body had been moved. Neither the State’s forensic team during the murder investigation or the forensic experts originally retained as part of the prior habeas investigation conducted in 2002 noticed this evidence or recognized its importance.”
Following Gannon’s revelation, Rodney’s legal team presented the evidence to three highly regarded forensic pathologists and all corroborated Gannon’s findings.
The appeal also includes new witness statements corroborating an ongoing relationship between Rodney and Stacey. Rodney has always maintained that the consensual sexual relationship he had with Stacey is what led to his DNA being found at the crime scene – the only physical evidence tying him to the scene. The many witnesses who would have testified to the relationship were never called to testify at trial. Now others have submitted affadavits to this effect, including a cousin of Stacey’s, as well her former co-workers at H.E.B.
Stacey’s cousin, Calvin “Buddy” Horton describes witnessing the affair between the two. In his statement, Horton says “Sometime after Stacey’s death I remember seeing pictures of Rodney Reed on the news and in the newspaper after he became a suspect in the death of my cousin. Rodney Reed is the same man I saw with Stacey at the Dairy Queen in 1995.”
In addition to the new appeal, the CCA is hearing a separate appeal regarding DNA testing that was denied by a lower court. Testing all the DNA that has been requested could help bolster Rodney’s claim to innocence.
Rodney’s supporters believe that these latest revelations are further proof that Texas has convicted the wrong man.
The court must examine all of the evidence closely, efforts which could include evidentiary hearings in a state district court where the forensic experts and other witnesses can offer their testimony.
Because of the strength of these new findings, Rodney’s supporters believe that the Court should reverse Rodney’s conviction and free him from death row. As former prisoner and Campaign to End the Death Penalty board member Mark Clements puts it, “It is my belief that Reed will prevail and be granted evidentiary hearing on his claim of actual innocencearising from faulty and false testimony by the original pathologist.”
The campaign for justice for Rodney Reed that started over 15 years ago continues to the struggle toward that goal.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE
Shortly after Rodney’s conviction in 1998, his family attended an anti-death penalty event in 2000 and connected there with activists in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Alongside the family, activists created a fact sheet and petition about the case and began to organize speaking events with Rodney’s mother Sandra Reed.
Over the next decade, Sandra, Rodney’s brother Rodrick Reed and other family members spoke out about Rodney’s case. They travelled all over Texas, and often flew to Chicago for the CEDP’s annual convention to speak to people from around the country. Activists in Austin organized BBQ’s, rallies, held petition tables and other events to get the word out about the case.
In 2002, the Austin Chronicle ran a long investigative piece by reporter Jordan Smith, which helped propel local interest in Rodney case. In 2006, filmmaker Ryan Polomski, then a University of Texas film student, created the award-winning documentary, “State vs. Reed”, which became an invaluable tool in the campaign to win justice for Rodney. The film has been screened to large and small audiences around the country and is streaming online.
The case was regularly featured in The New Abolitionist, the national newsletter of the CEDP, and the left newspaper, Socialist Worker. A blog by Rodney’s pen-pal and friend Caitlin Adams became a feature at nodeathpenalty.org in 2011 and the case began to attract some national media attention.
A previous appeal for Rodney was denied by the federal courts in 2013, paving the way for the State to set an execution date last summer. The efforts over the years to build support for Rodney meant that a group of activists was able to jump into action once the execution date was set.
Rodney was originally issued an execution for January 2015. The judge who issued the death warrant also agreed to hear a motion for DNA testing at a later date. In November 2014, activists packed a hearing where that same judge denied a motion for further DNA testing, but also reset Rodney’s execution date for March 5, 2015.
From the moment Rodney’s date was set, an intense campaign to stop the execution, lobby the courts to agree to DNA testing, and demand a thorough examination of the evidence in the case was underway. Activists organized a series of actions meant to draw attention to the case from the public, the media, the courts and the political establishment.
At a string of organizing meetings and online discussions, activists created a sample clemency letter aimed at the Texas governor and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. A campaign website was created to collect information and make materials available to activists. Activists continued to promote an online petition at change.org. Campaigners also started a solidarity photo campaign on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter where supporters could post pictures of themselves holding signs of support for Rodney.
These organizing meetings also brought out a contingent of students from the University of Texas, who launched the Campus Campaign to Save Rodney Reed.
The campaign ramped up in January, when activists collected petitions, clemency letters and solidarity photos. Supporters marched in the annual MLK Day March under a banner that read FREE RODNEY REED and signed up hundreds of people on the petition. They held a rally outside the Texas State Capitol on January 24, and a national conference call with Sandra Reed on January 26.
On Valentines Day weekend activists staged three separate events:
- On Friday, February 13, campaigners organized a march around the Bastrop County Courthouse with Rodney’s family. A small group of supporters, including Rodrick Reed, tried to speak with the Bastrop County district attorney, but were turned away.
- On Saturday, February 14, activists, with a lot of support from the student contingent, organized a clemency event at the Governor’s Mansion asking Texas Governor Greg Abbott to “Have a Heart: Stop the Execution.” Activists strung dozens of homemade valentines on the fence and unveiled one huge valentine outside the mansion.
- On Sunday, February 15, the faith community came out for another clemency event — this time with Sister Helen Prejean, a nun and renowned human rights activist. Sister Helen spoke alongside Rodrick Reed and Heather Stobbs, a cousin of Stacey Stites, as well as members of the Austin faith community. Well over a hundred people crowded into to Austin’s Friends Meeting House to hear these incredible speakers and to sign clemency letters for Rodney.
February 16 was the premiere of the A&E special episode of “Dead Again” featuring Rodney’s case. Millions of people watched this show, propelling the case to national attention. The Rodney campaign’s activity on Twitter and Facebook during the premiere drew hundreds of new supporters to our social media network and the newly launched campaign website.
During this time, the campaign in Texas was bolstered by the arrival of a group of former prisoners from around the country. One was Mark Clements, who served 28 years of a juvenile life without parole sentence before being released. Mark serves on the board of the CEDP, who sponsored his trip to Texas from Chicago to campaign for clemency for Rodney.
Witness to Innocence, a group made up of exonerated death row prisoners, also sponsored several members to come to Texas in February and March. They included Shujaa Graham (former Calfornia death row prisoner) and Gary Drinkard (former Alabama death row prisoner). Shujaa is a longtime friend of the Reed family, having spoken alongside Sandra Reed at many events over the years.
Shujaa and Gary joined Delia Perez Meyer (sister of Texas death row prisoner Louis Perez) at a panel event on the University of Texas campus in February. Mark, Shujaa and Gary then participated in an open air speak-out on campus later that week and attended meetings all over Austin (and Bastrop) to build support for Rodney.
The events in February all built toward a big “Rally for Justice for Rodney Reed!” held on Saturday, February 21. The event drew over 300 people to the Governor’s Mansion. Many came from Bastrop and also from around the state.
An incredible line up of speakers spoke of the need to stop the execution, for the courts to reopen the case, and for Rodney to be found innocent and freed. The speakers included Sandra, Rodrick, activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, several former prisoners, and family members of people who were killed by police.
One of those speakers was Ava Haywood, whose son died in police custody in Bastrop County. Ava grew up with Sandra in Bastrop and described the system there in a powerful speech:
“The motives that are judging Rodney Reed today are evil Jim Crow motives. June 10, 1892, Toby Cook was hanged for the rape and murder of a white woman in Bastrop County. The characteristics of this case run parallel with Rodney Reed. Many of the judges and law enforcement that were over the case of Toby Cook – they were ancestors of many of the family members in the judicial system in Bastrop Country today.”
Throughout the campaign, media came out to every event, and stories about Rodney were almost a nightly feature on the local news.
Although the campaign for justice for Rodney has been headquartered in central Texas, the struggle has spread around the world. Today, the change.org petition for Rodney has over 20,000 signatures.
The campaign has received petitions in the mail from Japan. Supporters have sent solidarity photos from as far Australia and as near as Mexico, and activists have held solidarity events in France and Germany.
The clemency campaign for Rodney drew some high profile supporters, including actors Dick Gregory and Susan Sarandon, musician Chuck D of Public Enemy, and former Olympic medalist John Carlos.
Rodney was a subject of an Amnesty International urgent action to stop his execution, drawing even wider attention to his plight.
Meanwhile, an increase in national media attention has helped build support and vice versa. Jordan Smith, now writing for the investigative journalism web site The Intercept, has been writing about this case for years and has continued her coverage on a new national stage. And in the days after the airing of the A&E special, Chris Hayes at MSNBC featured the case on his show All In With Chris Hayes.
In an incredible turn of events, just a few days after the big rally at the Governor’s mansion, the CCA announced a stay of execution for Rodney Reed. While the Court declined to offer any insight into why they granted the stay – althought newly elected Texas Governor Greg Abbott had this to say, “I think this is a healthy process that the court announced what it did so that we can put beyond a shadow of any doubt whatsoever, that he really is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.”
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Following the stay of execution, activists have continued to keep up the pressure. In late February, campus activists held an overnight Sleep-in for Rodney on the main mall at the University of Texas. Despite chilly weather, students stayed all night and were joined by Mark Clements and Rodrick Reed.
In early March, Texas abolitionists held a lobby day and Day of Innocence at the Texas State Capitol. Family members of Texas prisoners were joined by Witness to Innocence members Ron Keine (former New Mexico’s death row prisoner) and Sabrina Butler (former Mississippi death row prisoner), as well as Mark Clements of the CEDP. The group spent the day talking to legislators and representatives of the governor’s office about the death penalty and the case of Rodney Reed.
In late March, Rodney’s supporters held a rally in front of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Participants took turns standing for photos inside the taped off measurements of a prison cell to demonstrate the reality of life on the row. In April, student activists led a die-in on the University of Texas campus, and held a panel discussion at UT featuring Rodrick and others.
Although Rodney has been given a stay of execution, the fight is far from over. The Court has agreed to look at Rodney’s new appeal, but there are no guarantees of a favorable ruling. One possibility is that the court could look at the evidence and opt to deny relief, as they have done in the past.
Another possibility is that the CCA could order a new trial. This wouldn’t be unwelcome to Rodney and his supporters. However, if the evidence of innocence is strong enough to warrant a new trial, then it would make better sense for the court to reverse the conviction altogether.
The best possible outcome from the CCA would be a reversal of Rodney’s conviction and for Rodney to be released from prison. In this event, the Bastrop County district attorney could still opt to take Rodney to trial again, in which case activists should demand that the DA drop Rodney’s indictment completely.
In an interview following the stay, Rodney reflected on the stay of execution, saying “I’m very optimistic that if the courts are willing to acknowledge this evidence that we have, because this evidence is not made up. If they’re willing to acknowledge it, I feel like they will give me the better judgment on this.”
The various options before the Court make the ongoing activist campaign for Rodney paramount. Rodney’s family and supporters are prepared to carry on the fight. As Rodrick said at a rally in February, “If we don’t stand up today, we’re going to lay down tomorrow for anything they’re going to make us lay down for. And I ain’t a laying down kind of guy. I’m a fighter, I come from a family of fighters!”
The evidence in front of the court today, combined with the body of evidence gathered over the years, makes it clear that activists must demand nothing less than a full reversal of Rodney’s conviction and that Texas must FREE RODNEY REED NOW!