Monthly Archives: February 2015

All-Night by Candlelight: University of Texas students hold a vigil for Rodney Reed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

UT Students Hold All-Night Vigil to Keep Attention on Rodney Reed Case

Supporters of Rodney Reed Say The Fight is Far From Over

February 25, Austin, Texas: Members of the UT Student Coordinating Committee to Free Rodney Reed will hold an all-night, candlelit vigil in front of the UT Tower on the Main Mall to raise awareness about Rodney’s case and other prisoners being held on Texas’ Death Row. Senior Collin Poirot, an organizer for the event, says, “This vigil is intended as a way to show solidarity with Rodney, his family, and his community. We will begin the evening with comments from community members who have been involved with Rodney’s case since the beginning, and will be holding other events over the course of the vigil.” The vigil will last from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM.

Although Governor Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles remained silent with regard to Reed’s case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) decided on Monday February 22nd to grant Mr. Reed a temporary stay until a further evidenciary hearing could be conducted. This decision by the CCA comes in response to an appeal by Rodney’s attorneys, submitted on February 13th, wherein the attorneys present three new affidavits by highly esteemed medical examiners, each testifying that the medical evidence in the case wholly contradicts the timeline provided by the prosecution in Rodney’s initial sentencing.

Students have argued that, although this temporary stay is a victory in the fight to free Rodney Reed, it falls far short of the new trial and full DNA testing that Rodney’s advocates are requesting. “The fight to win justice for Rodney Reed isn’t over until he is home safe with his family,” says Collin Poirot, “We appreciate the court’s decision to hold further evidenciary hearings, but we also stress the importance of sustained community activism and involvement. There is no guarantee that this new hearing will be enough to get Rodney out of prison. What we have asked for from the very beginning is a brand new trial, wherein all of the evidence can be examined and witnesses that were not called in the initial trial can finally testify on Rodney’s behalf. This vigil is a way for us to keep all eyes on Rodney.”

Although initially silent with regard to the case, Gov. Abbott finally spoke about Rodney’s situation in a press conference following the CCA decision. The all-night vigil is  partly a response to Gov. Abbott’s statement, insofar as the governor has yet to acknowledge that, even if Rodney is eventually exonerated, he will still have spent 18 years on death row. Rodney’s family deserves reparations from the state, along with a public apology and an official acknowledgment that the Texas criminal justice system stole 18 years of this innocent man’s life. The fact that Rodney was judged by an all-white jury is further evidence that the criminal justice system in Texas is deeply flawed and prone to horrific miscarriages of justice. The first step in making this right for Rodney and his family is give him a speedy and transparent trial. That is what participants in this vigil are asking for, and they will accept nothing less.

The candlelight vigil follows in the wake of a series of awareness-raising events held on the UT campus and around Austin over the past month. On Friday February 6th, students held a phone banking event and organized a community-wide call-in to Gov. Abbott’s “Opinion Hotline” and the offices of various members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. On Monday February 16th, students organized an educational flash mob to raise awareness among students. There have also been multiple screenings of the documentary “State vs. Reed” on campus and around Austin, and there have been two large-scale public demonstrations regarding Rodney’s case, first on Valentine’s Day and then again on Saturday February 21st. The latter rally attracted more than two hundred people from all over the state, who came to show solidarity with the Reed family and demand a full review of Rodney’s case, additional DNA testing, and a new trial.

For more information contact: Collin Poirot, 214-392-2281, cpoirot@utexas.edu www.justice4rodneyreed.org

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Gov. Abbott finally issues a statement about Rodney Reed

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has finally issued a statement about Rodney Reed. One day after Reed’s stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Abbott spoke to Austin’s FOX7:

“First, I think it’s important for us to have an effective death penalty in the state of Texas when needed to be certain that whenever it’s supplied the person did commit the crime. So I think this is a healthy process that the court announced what it did so we can put beyond the shadow of any doubt what-so-ever that he really is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted,” he said.

Fox also notes that  the office of new Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says “they are reviewing the court’s ruling and did not immediately comment”

This blogger wouldn’t call anything about the Reed case a “healthy process”, but it’s notable that Abbott was finally forced to respond to the highest-profile capital punishment case of his new governorship. As Amnesty International says “Let’s keep the pressure up to ensure clemency!”

BREAKING NEWS: Rodney Reed granted a stay of execution by CCA

We have just learned that the execution of Rodney Reed has been stayed for now, by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA). The fight isn’t over until a new trial is granted, but this is great news!!

Says KVUE: “The ruling from the appeals court states Reed and his lawyers believe there is newly discovered evidence in Reed’s case that supports his claim that he is innocent.

The court placed a stay on Reed’s execution, scheduled for March 5, “pending further order of this Court.”

Reed’s lawyer, Bruce Benjet, released the following statement Monday:

We’re extremely relieved that the court has stayed Mr. Reed’s execution so there will be proper consideration of the powerful new evidence of his innocence. We are also optimistic that this will give us the opportunity to finally conduct DNA testing that could prove who actually committed the crime.”

You can read the full ruling from the CCA here.

Thanks to everyone who helped shine a light on this injustice. Public pressure and the work of Rodney’s attorneys is truly making a difference for Rodney and his family! 

Check back to this site for updates on this case and planned events as information comes in.

Amnesty International issues URGENT ACTION about Rodney Reed

Thanks to the efforts of the student chapter of Amnesty International at the University of Texas, Rodney Reed is the subject of an Amnesty International Urgent Action. We are thankful to Amnesty for recognizing the grave injustices in Rodney’s case and for sharing this information with its membership!

Their fact sheet is available as a pdf for easy sharing, and includes information for those who wish to write a clemency letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, asking them to stop Rodney’s execution. You can send an email asking for clemency through their website here. Thanks to Amnesty for helping us take Rodney’s case truly international!

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Amnesty International is one of the world’s largest human rights organizations with offices in over 80 countries.

Sr. Helen Prejean: Rodney Reed is innocent; the legal system is racist

Renowned anti death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean will be speaking in Austin in support of Rodney Reed tomorrow, February 15. In an interview today, she discussed her commitment to Rodney’s case, citing both Rodney’s innocence and the racism at play in American courts.

“Prejean says state and local authorities’ ongoing refusal to further investigate Reed’s case is par for the course in the American legal system and society.

“If you don’t equally value your citizens in life, you won’t value them in death,” she told Al Jazeera on Saturday, referring to the what some rights advocates across the country call white police officers’ extrajudicial killings last year of black men including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.

Prejean said that in the 1987 case McClesky v. Kemp, Supreme Court justices acknowledged that “race plays a role in the death penalty, but they said that it would be too costly to remedy it. You have the highest court of the land acknowledging racism in the justice system, and saying it’s too costly to fix it.”

“That’s all the fabric of the legal system, that we have incurable racism,” she said.

Read the whole piece at Al Jazeera, including a statement of support from Stacey Stites’ cousin, Kay Hart.

Sister Helen will be speaking on Sunday, Feb. 15 at the Friends Meeting of Austin at 2:00PM. More information can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/806970449371590/

Breaking News: Forensic experts believe Stacey Stites died before midnight

Today, Rodney’s attorneys filed a motion to request a new trial based on the opinions of three forensic pathologists:

The filing comes on the heels of affidavits from forensic pathologists Dr. LeRoy Riddick (who has now written four opinions on Stites’s death since 2003), former Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York Dr. Michael Baden, and Dr. Werner Spitz, whose textbook Medicolegal Investigation of Death is recognized as “the bible of forensic pathology.” All three conclude four inconsistencies [with the state’s version of events].

Attorneys also filed two affidavits that confirm that Rodney and Stacey were involved in a consensual relationship before she was murdered. Read the whole story at the Austin Chronicle 

 

Gov. Abbott: Have a Heart! Stop the Execution of Rodney Reed!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Giant valentine delivered to Abbott asks “Have a Heart. Stop the Execution”

Supporters of death row prisoner Rodney Reed ask for clemency

February 14, Austin, Texas:  This Valentine’s Day, supporters of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed will deliver a valentine to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to stop Rodney’s execution, scheduled for March 5, 2015. Members of the Austin community, including Rev. Tom VandeStadt, will deliver a giant valentine to the Governor’s Mansion at 1:00PM reading “Have a Heart. Stop the Execution”.

Supporters will ‘spread the love’ by surrounding the mansion with smaller valentines collected from Rodney’s friends around Texas, the US, and the world. Each one represents a plea for Gov. Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency to Rodney, stop the execution, and allow DNA testing of crucial crime scene items– including the murder weapon—for the first time. In an appeal directly to Gov. Abbott, Rodney’s mother, Sandra Reed, said, “We just want the DNA tested. We want the truth. That’s all we’re asking.”

Rodney Reed has been on Texas death row since 1998. He was convicted of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, TX. In the years since, evidence has been uncovered that points to Stacey’s fiancée, Jimmy Fennell, Jr. as the true killer. At the time of Stacey’s murder, Fennell was a police officer in Giddings. In 2008, after his transfer to the Georgetown Police Department, Fennell was sentenced to ten years in prison for “kidnapping and improper sexual contact with a person in custody” when he sexually assaulted a woman in his custody at gunpoint.

There is no DNA evidence linking Rodney to the murder besides semen inside Stacey’s body, evidence of the affair the two were having. Reed’s supporters are asking for the Texas courts to allow DNA testing of crucial items found at the crime scene, including the belt used to strangle Stacey. Although in police custody for the past 15 years, these pieces have never been tested. “Frankly, what we’re asking for is, I think, a pretty conservative thing,” says Bryce Benjet, Rodney’s attorney with The Innocence Project. “To do DNA testing of evidence before you execute someone.”

If conducted, these tests could very well prove Rodney’s innocence. New laws expanding access to DNA testing in Texas were passed 2011 and 2013, addressing the importance of both pre- and post-conviction DNA testing. Notable recent exonerations due to DNA testing include Michael Morton and Anthony Graves.

In 2013, Abbott, who was then Attorney General, supported a bill for pre-conviction DNA testing, saying, “Texans may disagree about the death penalty, but one thing all Texans can and should agree upon is that no innocent person should be executed in Texas.” Says Lily Hughes, Austin resident and National Director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, “We want Gov. Abbott to stand by those words. He should show compassion and make sure another innocent person isn’t executed in Texas. All the evidence must be heard and tested”

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