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Texas: Rodney Reed granted indefinite stay of execution

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Stay of execution came just hours after parole board unanimously recommended 120-day reprieve
The Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed was granted a stay of execution on Friday, 5 days before he was scheduled to be put to death for a murder he insists he did not commit.
The Texas court of criminal appeals blocked the execution indefinitely and sent the case back to the trial court in Bastrop county, where Reed was sentenced in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites two years earlier.
The court had previously rejected multiple appeals, but Reed’s lawyers argued that fresh evidence bolstered his claim of innocence. 
They said in a statement that they “are extremely relieved and thankful … this opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr Reed’s innocence”.
Millions of people, including a clutch of celebrities, have rallied behind Reed’s cause, helping to generate momentum and public attention as the execution date of 20 November loomed an…

Texas: Law enforcement officers join Texas lawmaker to try and stop Rodney Reed's execution

Rodney Reed
Less than a month before Rodney Reed's scheduled execution, a group of law enforcement officials joined a state lawmaker to make an 11th hour effort to save his life.

State Representative Vikkie Goodwin of Austin is one of the many people who believe Reed could be innocent. “I’m more convinced that he did not receive a fair trial, that there is a racial basis against Rodney Reed and Reed did not kill Stacey Stites,” said Goodwin

Rodney Reed was convicted of Stites' rape and murder in 1998. His defense argued he and Stites were having an affair, and that Jimmy Fennell, Stites fiance, had motive and opportunity to kill her. Fennell later served ten years in prison for the kidnapping and improper sexual conduct with a woman in his custody as a police officer in Georgetown.

Goodwin spoke in the same room with the people behind an amicus brief sent to the U.S. Supreme Court. The group made up of 13 current and former Texas law enforcement officers believe Reed’s execution needs to be stopped until there’s a more thorough investigation into his case.

Deke Pierce is one of those officers. “I have as much responsibility to apprehend wrongdoers as I do to help exonerate innocent people as well,” said Pierce.

The amicus brief is in addition to a flood of new information from the Innocence Project hoping to pause Reed’s November 20th execution. 

The Innocence Project filed a number of motions to get DNA evidence collected at the 1996 murder scene tested. Reed’s defense teams believe there could be DNA from skin cells possibly on the belt used to strangle Stites.

A federal case from August argues Reed’s civil rights were violated when previous courts blocked the testing of additional DNA evidence to prove his possible innocence.

“There are so many pieces of evidence that haven’t been tested, haven’t been looked at, expert witnesses have changed their testimony. Like I said, I could go on and on about all the things wrong with this case,” said Pierce.

Source: cbsaustin.com, Staff, October 29, 2019


Pressure mounts to keep Rodney Reed alive


The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The State of Texas will execute Rodney Reed on November 20th. This week, multiple events are scheduled to draw attention to Reed, who’s convicted of killing Stacey Stites in 1996.

Monday at 4 PM, Texas state representative Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, will join law enforcement officers to file a brief with the United States Supreme Court, asking to stop the execution. Many believe Reed did not kill Stites.

“I don’t think anyone can say (Reed) is guilty without a shadow of a doubt, and I don’t believe we should carry out the death penalty when there’s doubt about the truth of the case,” Goodwin wrote KXAN in a release.

Reed — and the Innocence Project, which recently filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to stall the execution — say more DNA testing will prove he did not kill 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996. Stites, a bride-to-be who worked at H-E-B, was found dumped on the side of a rural road north of Bastrop after a search that began when she didn’t show up for work that morning.

While Reed was not looked into initially, he became a suspect when investigators ran his DNA as part of a separate alleged sexual assault case that was later dropped, the Reed defense says.

Authorities said Reed’s DNA matched evidence found in the Stites case, and he was arrested and charged with capital murder in 1997.

Reed claims he had a secret and consensual relationship with Stites, which explains the DNA match. Reed’s legal team has continuously pointed the finger at Stites’ then-fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, as the killer. Investigators considered Fennell a suspect, prior to Reed’s DNA match.

Fennell was later accused of raping a woman in his custody while he was a Georgetown Police Office in 2007. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges, served 10 years in prison and was released in 2018.

Reed’s family has been fighting for a new trial for years, and he has tried to appeal the case at least 8 times over 2 decades. He filed a lawsuit in federal district court last month against the state for repeatedly denying requests for DNA testing.

Kim Kardashian West waded into the Rodney Reed case, urging Gov. Greg Abbott to halt the death row inmate’s planned execution on Saturday.

The reality TV star tweeted her support for Reed in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Kardashian West, who has 62 million followers on Twitter, said she has been “investigating” Reed’s case and tagged Abbott, telling him to “do the right thing.”

KXAN has reached out to Governor Abbott’s office for a comment and has not yet heard back.

Source: KXAN news, Staff, October 29, 2019


Rodney Reed presses for DNA tests on murder weapon


With a Nov. 20 execution date looming, lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed are making a last-ditch effort to force DNA testing on the murder weapon in his case.

Defense lawyers say the testing, routine in modern investigations but never done in Reed’s case, could support claims that the Bastrop man did not commit the 1996 murder that sent him to death row 21 years ago.

They argue that the brown woven belt used to strangle Stacey Stites, applied with such force that it broke in two, likely includes DNA-bearing skin cells that could identify the killer.

Prosecutors, however, have been fighting to block the testing for years, arguing that results could not be trusted.

The belt and other crime scene evidence that Reed wants tested were likely contaminated by repeated handling during and after Reed’s trial, they argue. In addition, several items were stored in the same box but not packaged separately, allowing potential DNA to mingle, prosecutors say.

Thus far, a visiting judge and the state’s highest criminal court have sided with prosecutors, rejecting Reed’s request for DNA testing. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Reed’s appeal of the matter.

Defense lawyers — in the midst of increasingly frantic legal challenges to Reed’s conviction, arguing that he is innocent — responded by filing a federal lawsuit in August saying that Reed’s civil rights are being violated by the refusal to grant him access to evidence for DNA testing.

The final brief is due in Austin federal court on Tuesday, and thus far U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has not indicated how he will handle the challenge or when he might rule on it.

Defense lawyers are also asking Yeakel to delay Reed’s execution to allow time to fully consider the DNA issues. In the alternative, they asked Yeakel to rule quickly, leaving “adequate time for any necessary appeals” before Reed’s execution date.

Murder weapon


The belt, established as the murder weapon by autopsy, was found in two pieces — one near the truck belonging to Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell, that was found parked at Bastrop High School, and one near Stites’ body, which had been left along a rural road about 10 miles away.

In Reed’s lawsuit, his lawyers argue that basic fairness demands that never-before-done DNA testing be allowed on the belt and other crime scene evidence that was likely touched by the killer, including clothing and Stites’ nametag, which had been positioned in the crook of her knee. Today’s sophisticated techniques can identify DNA from skin cells in ways that were not available when Reed was tried in 1996, and in ways that can make allowances for cross contamination, they say.

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, TexasThe lawsuit also argues that Reed’s rights were violated when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, rejected his request for DNA testing with a 2017 ruling that questioned the usefulness of examining the evidence due to potential contamination.

Texas law gives inmates access to DNA testing to help identify wrongful convictions, but the law also requires that the evidence was “subjected to a chain of custody sufficient to establish that it has not been substituted, tampered with, replaced, or altered in any material respect.” The appeals court ruled that the items in evidence met the law’s definition of being altered or tampered with, making them unavailable for testing, after they were handled by ungloved lawyers, court personnel and possibly jurors during Reed’s trial and were not separately packaged when placed into storage afterward.

Reed’s lawsuit argues that the state appeals court improperly created a contamination condition that is nowhere in state law, making it unlikely that DNA testing would be allowed in other cases without the approval of prosecutors while making Reed pay for poor evidence-handling procedures that were out of his control.

Scientific data


Bastrop County Criminal District Attorney Bryan Goertz, represented by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on the Reed appeals, has asked Yeakel to dismiss Reed’s lawsuit, arguing that the federal court lacks jurisdiction to review a state court ruling and that the district attorney is immune from being sued.

Paxton’s lawyers also argue that, even without potential contamination, the evidence that Reed wants tested is unlikely to produce results that could lead to exoneration.

Reed’s lawyers have long argued that Stites was likely killed by her fiance, Fennell, with whom she had been living. As the Court of Criminal Appeals determined, “the jury would most likely not be surprised” if Fennell’s DNA was found on the belt and other items that were owned by Stites or taken from the Fennell’s truck, prosecutors told Yeakel.

But Reed’s lawyers question why the courts would engage in speculation about what DNA tests might find when the solution — allowing the tests — would provide real scientific data to examine.

“Proceeding with Mr. Reed’s execution while arbitrarily denying DNA testing capable of proving his innocence would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,” they told the judge.

Source: Austin American-Statesman, Staff, October 29, 2019


Death Row Inmate To Die Next Month Despite Victim’s Family Trying To Save Him


Texas' death chamber, The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
A death row inmate is being put to death in Texas next month, despite the victim’s family campaigning to save him.

Rodney Reed, 52, was charged with the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, 19, in 1996. Reed was convicted of strangling Stacey during an aggravated sexual assault in Bastrop, Texas.

However, in the years that followed, Stacey’s family have worked tirelessly to protest Reed’s innocence, claiming the young woman was actually strangled by her police officer fiancé, Jimmy Fennell. Reed himself has continuously maintained his innocence.

Reed has been on death row for 22 years. His original execution date was scheduled for 2015, but was postponed because of new witness testimony and forensic analysis.

However, the court then ruled against Reed, who is now facing execution on November 20, as reported by CBS Austin.

Earlier this month, Reed’s attorneys filed a motion asking the Bastrop County District Court to withdraw Reed’s execution date to allow them more time to investigate claims from 2 new witnesses in the case.

Among these witnesses was one individual who claims Stacey’s cop fiancé told them she ‘got what she deserved’. They said:

I was down at the funeral home when Stacey was down there, I was standing in the hallway and Jimmy himself come up beside me.

He said something about she was buried in her white wedding dress. He said something to me to the effect… she more or less got what she deserved.

UNILAD spoke with Julie Strickland, a woman who has known Reed since they were teenagers together in Wichita Falls, Texas.

She is among the individuals who are still campaigning for a new trial or exoneration for Reed, believing him to be wrongfully accused.

Julie told UNILAD:

We have our sights set on a new trial or an exoneration. We are with Rodney when he says he doesn’t entertain the idea of being executed. We are still continuing to campaign for Rodney, and we love everything our supporters are doing to share Rodney’s message.

Source: unilad.co.uk, Staff, October 29, 2019


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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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