Rodney Reed is scheduled to die by lethal injection Nov. 20 in Texas. Advocates including celebrities, clergy and state lawmakers are scrambling to stop his execution, saying he was wrongly convicted of rape and murder in 1998.
An all-white jury convicted Reed, a Black man, of the 1996 rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. He was sentenced to death. Reed’s attorney, Bryce Benjet, told CNN that there is a “mountain of evidence” to exonerate him, while prosecutors argue the evidence overwhelmingly points to his guilt. More than 2 million people have signed the online petition on freerodneyreed.com. Reed has repeatedly professed his innocence. His attorneys are seeking another trial.
Celebrities like Oprah, Beyoncé, Rihanna, LL Cool J and Kim Kardashian West have all publicly voiced their support for Reed. Dr. Phil even interviewed and voiced his support for Reed on his talk show. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, head of the Diocese of Austin, has urged the state to look back into the evidence surrounding the case.
“If the scheduled execution of Mr. Reed proceeds, there is great risk the state of Texas will execute a man who is innocent of this crime while allowing the guilty party to go free,” Vasquez said in a statement Tuesday.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have also come out to support Reed. Last week, 13 Democrat and 13 Republican members of the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus sent Gov. Gregg Abbott and David Gutiérrez, chair of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, a letter asking to grant Reed clemency. The letter argues more time is needed to examine “compelling” evidence that suggests Reed may not be guilty.
Abbott has stopped an execution before. Last year, he resentenced Thomas Whitaker to life in prison for the murders of his mother and brother and shooting of his father — who survived and begged for mercy for his son — just one hour before his scheduled execution.
Freerodneyreed.com — the site of the petition started by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King — says the evidence that exonerates Reed was kept from the jury at the time of his trial. The site says Reed had a consensual relationship with Stites and that the only DNA of his found at the scene was from the consensual relationship. Additionally, witness testimony suggests Reed is innocent. Jimmy Fennell, Stites’ then-fiancé and a local police officer, was a suspect in the case but was never charged with the crime. However, Fennell was later arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping a woman and sexually assaulting her while he was on duty. Sworn affidavits from witnesses also state that Fennell had threatened to kill Stites before — and that he had confessed to doing it. In a recent testimony, Arthur Snow, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood and prisonmate of Fennell, said Fennell told him, “I had to kill my [N-word]-loving fiancée.”
The Innocence Project, an organization also advocating on behalf of Reed, said that the murder weapon was never tested for DNA evidence and that forensic experts who testified admitted to errors in their testimony.
Reed became a suspect in Stites’ case because of the similarities to another case in the area he was arrested for: the rape, beating and attempted murder of 19-year-old Linda Schlueter. Schlueter, now 42, maintains that Reed raped her. She is one of six women who have made similar claims.
He was charged and acquitted in one case and not prosecuted in others.
“Rodney Reed is not innocent at all and all these people that think he’s innocent, I’m so sorry, they’re so blinded,” Schlueter said in an interview with CNN.
Benjet says the prosecution’s basis for the case was that Reed raped and killed Stites within a two-hour time span after she had left for work that day, but that forensic scientists said Stites was killed hours before the time Fennell told police she left for work, meaning the murder occurred earlier during the time Fennell claimed they were both home.
Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, who was Fennell’s friend at the time of the crime, also recently revealed that Fennell has given inconsistent accounts of where he was on the night of the murder, first claiming he was out drinking, then saying the two were home.
Still, prosecutors say the DNA evidence on Stites’ body — which Reed supporters say was from their consensual sexual relationship — is irrefutable, and that the fact that he has been accused of rape before suggests he is guilty.
However, the association has since deleted and apologized for the tweet.
In Texas, there are currently 225 people on death row. Ninety-eight are Black, 61 are white, 62 are Latino and four are Asian, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Countrywide, 41.98% are white, 13.43% are Black, 13.43% are Latino and 2.91% are other. The Death Penalty Information Center also provides a list of 16 people executed since 1983 who have significant evidence suggesting their innocence.