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Innocent on Death Row? New Evidence Casts Doubt on Convictions

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Rodney Reed’s death sentence was suspended. But researchers say other current cases raise similar doubt about the guilt of the accused.
The number of executions in the United States remains close to nearly a three-decade low. And yet the decline has not prevented what those who closely track the death penalty see as a disturbing trend: a significant number of cases in which prisoners are being put to death, or whose execution dates are near, despite questions about their guilt.
Rodney Reed, who came within days of execution in Texas before an appeals court suspended his death sentence on Friday, has been the most high-profile recent example, receiving support from Texas lawmakers of both parties and celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, who urged a new examination of the evidence.
Mr. Reed has long maintained that he did not commit the 1996 murder for which he was convicted. And in recent months, new witnesses came forward pointing toward another possible suspect: the dead…

Texas executes Tommy Lynn Sells

Tommy Lynn Sells
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A serial killer has been put to death in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his lawyers' demand that the state release information about where it gets its lethal injection drug.

Tommy Lynn Sells was executed Thursday evening. He became the first inmate injected with a dose of newly replenished pentobarbital that Texas prison officials obtained to replace an expired supply of the sedative.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials pronounced him dead at 6:27 p.m., about 13 minutes after he was injected with a fatal dose of pentobarbital.

As he waited word on his U.S. Supreme Court appeal Thursday, Sells was kept in a small holding cell just outside the execution chamber in Huntsville, said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Sells was quiet, reserved and accompanied by a chaplain. He had access to a phone, Clark said.

His attorneys had hoped the courts would force prison officials to reveal more information about the pharmacy that supplied the drug. They argued the new pentobarbital could lead to unconstitutional pain.

Lawyers for Sells argued, in part, that, “the increasing scarcity of execution drugs — and consequent concerns about the quality and states' desperate efforts to keep the source of drugs secret — have become the central feature of botched executions and Eighth Amendment concerns.”

The state prison agency wants the information kept secret to protect the pharmacy from threats of violence.

A Val Verde County jury sent Sells, 49, to death row in 2000 for the December 1999 stabbing death of 13-year-old Kaylene Harris in her family's trailer home near Del Rio. He confessed after a friend who was sleeping over that night survived having her own throat slit and helped identify him to authorities.

He later pleaded guilty in Bexar County to strangling 9-year-old Mary Beatrice Perez, who was abducted from a Fiesta event at Market Square in 1999. District Attorney Susan Reed agreed to drop her bid for a second death sentence, instead settling on life in prison, in exchange for the plea.

Court records show Sells claimed to have committed as many as 70 killings in states including Alabama, California, Arizona, Kentucky and Arkansas.

The families of both slain children were on a list to witness the execution. Kaylene's witnesses included her father, brother and two grandmothers. Also present were the mother and grandmother of Mary.


Sells becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 513th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. Sells becomes the 274th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

Sells becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1374th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. 

Source: AP, Rick Halperin, Agencies, April 3, 2014

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