Rodney Reed wins a reprieve

February 25, 2015

Supporters see the Texas high court's decision to stay the execution of Rodney Reed as a first step in the fight to ultimately win his freedom, reports Elizabeth Schulte.

A WEEK before his scheduled execution on March 5, Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed won a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Reed, his family and his supporters have maintained Rodney's innocence ever since his 1998 conviction for the murder of Stacy Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Reed's lawyers have long argued that if evidence uncovered in the years since then was properly heard in court, he would be exonerated and freed.

Law enforcement and prosecutors ignored the original suspect in the murder--Stites' fiancé, a local police officer with a violent history--and instead built a case against Reed. The all-white Texas jury easily voted to convict a Black man accused of killing a white woman.

The stay could provide an opportunity for a court to hear new evidence, including the conclusions of forensic experts that Reed didn't sexually assault the 19-year-old Stites, as prosecutors claimed, as well as evidence that Reed was nowhere near the victim at the time of her murder. Reed's lawyers also hope the courts will finally allow DNA testing on all the material in the case, which they have fought for, but have been denied before.

Supporters gathered outside the courthouse holding out hope for justice for Rodney Reed
Supporters gathered outside the courthouse holding out hope for justice for Rodney Reed

As Lily Hughes of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty said:

The stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is excellent news and is just what we were hoping for at this stage. Now we are waiting for some indication from the court about how much of a hearing they will give the new claims that were raised in this appeal. We are looking for a full review of the explosive new medical findings, and we'd also like to see all the evidence tested for DNA that we have been asking for.

Whether it's through evidentiary hearings--or, even better, a new trial--we want a chance for all the evidence to be heard. Then we think the courts can have but one conclusion--Rodney Reed is innocent of this crime and must be freed from death row!

THERE IS nothing the Texas justice system would have liked more than for Rodney's case to be swept under the rug. But his family and supporters in the anti-death penalty movement have done their best to keep this injustice in the spotlight, where it belongs.

As Rodney's brother Rodrick told reporters at a press conference after the announcement of the stay, "Without people supporting us, backing us, getting out there and raising their voices, screaming at the top of their lungs, we may never have got this attention. They may have never even looked into it like they're doing."

On February 21, hundreds of people rallied in Austin at the state Capitol building to let Texas know that they're watching. Family members, exonerated death row prisoners and death penalty opponents gathered to show their support.

"We've been fighting tirelessly," Rodney's mother Sandra Reed told the crowd that day. "I will not give up this fight. I will not, regardless of what the outcome will be...There are too many innocent men that have gone, that are waiting, and that will go if we don't stop this murder--this murdering machine, the death penalty."

Supporters see the Texas high court's decision as a step in the direction of a bigger demand--freedom for an innocent man.

"Look into this case," Rodrick Reed told reporters after the announcement of the stay. "This man is innocent. Do the right thing. The lieutenant governor said, 'It's a new day in Texas.' I want to see that new day. I want to see justice done in this case, not just for Rodney, but for everybody."

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