The execution of Rodney Reed must be halted

Photo+courtesy+of+the+Rodney+Reed%3A+Innocent+on+Texas+Death+Row+Facebook+page%0A%0AA+protestor+holds+a+sign+depicting+Rodney+Reed+during+a+march+demanding+his+exoneration.+Reed+is+scheduled+to+be+executed+on+Nov.+20+for+the+1996+rape+and+murder+of+Stacey+Stites+in+Bastrop%2C+a+crime+he+maintains+he+didn%E2%80%99t+do.+As+more+and+more+evidence+has+emerged+over+the+years+that+put+the+initial+ruling+into+question%2C+calls+for+his+exoneration+have+grown.%0A

Photo courtesy of the Rodney Reed: Innocent on Texas Death Row Facebook page A protestor holds a sign depicting Rodney Reed during a march demanding his exoneration. Reed is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20 for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, a crime he maintains he didn’t do. As more and more evidence has emerged over the years that put the initial ruling into question, calls for his exoneration have grown.

Update: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Rodney Reed an indefinite stay of execution on Nov. 15. While this is definitely a huge relief, and one undoubtedly won through the many who spoke up and demanded it, it does not mean it’s all over. Keep up with the Innocence Project to find out what other work needs to be done.

The state of Texas seems poised to execute an innocent man on Nov. 20, and there seems to be little indication that the powers that be are moving to halt it.

Rodney Reed has been on death row for over 20 years after being convicted by an all-white jury for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop back in 1996. It’s a crime he has long maintained his innocence over, and which new evidence revealed over the years has come to corroborate.

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit that pushes to exonerate wrongly-convicted people, lists much of the new evidence on their website, much of it pointing to the original suspect in the case — Stites’ fiancé Jimmy Fennell, an officer with the Giddings police department at the time.

Despite a growing pool of new evidence, new witnesses and new discoveries of inconsistencies and shortcomings in the original prosecution, Reed has not been granted a new trial. None of the new evidence has been seen by a jury.

The chorus coming to the aid of Reed has grown in recent weeks — encompassing not just mega celebrities like Beyoncé and Oprah Winfrey, but also those who might be considered unlikely allies, such as Sen. Ted Cruz and the Polk County Republican Party, who wrote a letter to the Bastrop District Attorney calling for a new trial and declaring that their chapter believed Reed’s innocence. Reed’s case was further given a boost through an hour-long interview with Dr. Phil, who devoted significant time to the case on his show, concluding himself that Reed is innocent.

I first became aware of the Reed case not long after the execution of Troy Davis in 2011, another black man who maintained his innocence until the end. Davis, too, had many celebrities and luminaries who called for clemency on his behalf, and this is perhaps why my optimism at the output of support for Reed is also tempered by my pessimism towards the system as a whole.

After the execution of Davis I went through so many of the questions that I find myself going through as Reed’s date approaches. Namely, how is it that something as sacrosanct as a person’s life can be allowed to be extinguished by the state when so much doubt lingers over the circumstances?

Many, including the Innocence Project, have pointed to race playing a big part in the original trial and what is considered a subsequent cover-up. Reed, a black man, has stated that he and Stites were involved in an affair — a claim since corroborated by individuals who knew the two, including Stites’ own cousin.

As Stites’ co-worker described to Dr. Phil in an interview, interracial relationships were not common in their town at the time of the murder. And as acquaintances of Fennell have described, including a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who shared a cell with Fennell during the former officer’s 10-year prison term for kidnapping and sex crime, Stites’ murder may have been in retribution for their affair.

There then persists the question of how the criminal justice system, particularly in the death penalty capital of Texas, views the life of black Americans. As Reed’s lawyers recently wrote in an appeal to the Supreme Court, “Nothing remains of the State’s trial theory but a lingering prejudice that consensual, interracial relationships did not happen in rural Bastrop, Texas in 1996.”

Now, I’m personally against the death penalty in general. But regardless of my personal principles, it seems simply logical to me that, when a person’s life hangs in a balance, there must be absolute certainty of guilt. There shouldn’t be even a modicum of doubt, for the act of carrying out this supposed form of justice cannot be reversed or amended for.

As it happens, Reed’s case doesn’t just carry a modicum of doubt. It carries a mountain. If you, like me, feel this execution must be halted, please visit innocenceproject.org to find out what you can do to pressure Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to act. Also join the nearly 3 million who have signed onto a petition at freerodneyreed.com.