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

vigil

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!

amnesty-international-logo-1

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”

conversation hearts

 

A Conversation with Sandra and Rodrick Reed

Read below for a moving interview with Rodney’s mother and brother. Originally published at nodeathpenalty.org 

Rodney Reed’s family has been at the forefront of a 17 year struggle to prove his innocence and win his freedom from Texas’ death row. Recently, Rodney’s mother Sandra, and brother Rodrick, sat down to talk with Lily Hughes from Campaign to End the Death Penalty about their disappointment in the courts, the need for DNA testing, and the pain of facing an execution date.

——————————————————————-

THERE’S A clemency process that’s already started, and we hope that you will have an opportunity to meet with the new governor, Greg Abbott, or perhaps members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to talk to them about why they should grant clemency. What you would say to the governor if you did get a chance to meet with him face to face?

Sandra: What we’ve been saying all along! Rodney is an innocent man. He was wrongfully convicted. He didn’t get a fair trial, and they used Jim Crow tactics to convict him. It’s not that they use Jim Crow tactics with every trial, but they used it with him.

We just want the new DNA testing. We want the truth. That’s all we’re asking. The only evidence that was presented was his DNA, and it was old. And you have nothing else–I mean nothing to link him to this case. How is it that you have enough merit to take a life–over old DNA? He was dating her!

There was a box of evidence that Judge Towslee ordered sealed–locked away. We never knew what that was until recently. Now, at this last hearing, there were two boxes when there should have been one, and they both were unsealed. That, to me, spells corruption. All I’m asking for is fairness. Give my son a fair shake. He never had a fair shake in the beginning. That’s all we’re asking.

And from my point of view, no matter what, you still shouldn’t take a life. Thou shalt not kill. What happened to the Ten Commandments? That’s all I have to say.

Rodrick: I would say to him that we just want to be treated the way he would want his own treated. We want the same thing he would expect if he were in our shoes. Fairness. Equality. We’re not asking for anything special. We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We’re just asking for what’s right.

Sandra: And if you have thousands of people out here who believe in him, what does that say? There is a shadow of a doubt…Twelve jurors were deceived. I still don’t know how they thought they had enough to do what they did, but I do believe they were deceived.

RECENTLY, AT a hearing here in Bastrop in front of the trial judge, he denied important DNA testing. And of course, there’s been a string of denials from the courts over the years, whether it’s the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals and, more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court. How has that affected your view of the court system and the way the criminal justice system operates? 

Sandra: I’ve told people over the years that I was very naïve as far as the justice system is concerned. I thought that if anything went wrong, all we had to do was take it to court, because that’s what the United States stands for: fairness without a shadow of a doubt.

But when it came down to my son’s case and the hearing and the way the trial went, it just went plumb Jim Crow.

There were witnesses waiting to testify, but never called. They made me a possible witness for the prosecution and never called me. The judge denied the alibi witness from testifying. And sitting there during that process, there was nothing I could do. I had no knowledge of the law itself, I didn’t have the funds, and I was denied the ability to testify for my son.

It felt like I was chained and bound. There was nothing I could do but stand there and watch them railroad my son. Over these last years–17 or 18 years of fighting–I have to say: Thank god for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Because you guys know what’s going on and what happened to me.

You wouldn’t have known what happened to Rodney if you hadn’t been concerned about right and wrong, and what did happen. And I am a proud member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Traveling over the years, and speaking and meeting exonerees from death row and other family members speaking out–that encouraged me to keep right on fighting for my son. This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us.

They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake. And being Black, you have that mark against you. Looking back at Martin Luther King and how he fought for our rights, I thought, well, we have our rights now. But I realize we don’t. We never had equality.

AND THE courts have completely failed us.

Sandra: The courts have completely failed us. Right. Absolutely.

SO WOULD you say that winning justice from the system requires taking MLK’s route? 

Sandra: It’s a hard row to hoe, especially when racism is still rampant. Things are better on the surface, but within, it’s still there, and it still hurts. It still affects people.

It’s undercover slavery. That’s what I feel. The government is building all of these prisons. Why? And most of the people are minorities. The justice they’re carrying out is legalized murder. Murder is murder.

Yet we’re willing to sacrifice our young men and boys to go over and fight for somebody else’s rights. And we don’t have our own backyard cleaned up? We’re killing our own. That’s what I got out of this–there’s no justice in this so-called justice system that we have.

Rodrick: There’s some justice, just us.

RODRICK, DID you have anything else you wanted to add about the courts?

Rodrick: Yes. I believe the courts are very, very misleading, because you think that justice will be blind and everyone should get a fair shake. But the reality is that if you don’t have the capital, you’re going to get the punishment. If you’re poor, you’re not going to get proper representation. If you’re mentally handicapped in any kind of way, you’re not going to get a fair shake, and that’s not right.

So the bottom line is that there’s a lot of work to be done in the justice system, and it’s not going to happen until we come together and use what we have to make it better. In cases like my brother’s case, once we bring him home–which I pray that’s the way it goes–then the fight keeps going. That racism, that injustice, that corruption is still there. And that’s the roots that we have to try to dig up.

sandra and rodrick

Sandra and Rodrick in front of the Texas State Capitol

 

SWITCHING SUBJECTS, I think that both of you have been down to see Rodney fairly recently, and we were wondering if you could talk about how he’s handling everything?

Sandra: I haven’t seen him since the hearing, because there have been other people, such as his sons, who have been visiting. I wanted them to have as much visitation as they could, because over these 18 years, he hadn’t seen his sons. When he was convicted, his sons were six or seven–maybe not even that old. But they’re now grown, and they have their own kids, so they’ve been visiting.

His granddaughter lives in California, and her mother put her on the plane, and her father picked her up in Dallas–and wow, they just had a wonderful, beautiful visit. Each visit was four hours. Monday, they got two visits in the same week for four hours, and I think that was wonderful.

So I want those kids to visit as much as they can, and other people who are in his corner and hadn’t seen him. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. He only gets a one visit a week, and so that makes it kind of tough. But he’s strong.

Rodrick: Yeah, he’s real strong. He’s real positive. You go down there with the expectation of trying to lift his spirits up, and…

Sandra: He lifts yours.

Rodrick: He lifts yours. And I think it’s all possible because of God, and all his supporters and friends and family who believe in him and support him. That keeps him strong, that keeps him positive, that keeps him going. If it had been me, I’d be crazy as a bug, but he’s strong.

Sandra: His support is strong, and his family, we’re right there with him. If he can just see our faces and see how strong we are, it keeps him strong.

Rodrick: We keep each other strong.

Sandra: He’s doing as well as can be expected. And of course, our faith is strong and I’m optimistic. Yet I have to face reality of how this justice system has treated my son over these 18 years, with the denial of everything. I’m hoping and praying. I can’t see how, with all of this information and evidence pointing to Rodney’s innocence, Greg Abbott would deny him clemency, but who’s to say?

THAT BRINGS me to my next question. How are you all doing? I know this is not an easy time, and it never is. What do you want to say about the death penalty, and the way it creates a whole new set of victims? 

Rodrick: Myself, I’m tired.

Sandra: He’s tired. We’re all tired.

Rodrick: I’m tired, but I’m strong. I’m going to keep my strength, and I’m going to push on as far as I can and do all that I can do, and I’m going to let God do the rest. But I think that it’s very stressful. I’ve aged–I’ve got more gray hair and a face full of gray. It has an effect.

All in all, we’re good. And I know it will get better. We all have points where it’s like, how much more can we take? How many more denials? How many more years? How many more days?

Sandra: And on top of dealing with everyday life, I have six sons, and all of them have their issues. Their issues are mine, and I worry. Not as much as I used to when they was coming up. Now that they’re in their 40s and 50s—

Rodrick: Don’t tell them my age! (laughter)

Sandra: I’m telling mine accidently! But, you know, when it rains it pours. There’s going to be times where everything happens at one time. But we’re maintaining. It’s a struggle, but we’re maintaining. And me being the mother, words can’t even express what I’m feeling now at this phase. I could tell you but you wouldn’t really know.

Rodrick: The words can’t describe it.

Sandra: I can sit here and tell you right now how much I’m grateful to you guys, and the words aren’t enough.

Rodrick: They don’t even do it justice.

Sandra: Words can’t even express what I’m feeling. At this phase of the game, I’m strong. I’m optimistic. Knowing what this system has done to us, I can’t believe it until I see it now. I have to touch it now. So that’s the best I can do, but I’m praying to God that he gives me the strength to endure whatever.

Rodrick: Somebody told me yesterday, “I’m really proud of you for the work that you do for your brother. I think you’re doing a good thing. I’m so proud of you.” I looked at her and I said, “To be proud of me for doing something for someone that I love is not a big deal. What moves me is people who do something for someone they don’t even know–a stranger.”

That’s what gives me strength. When we have people like you who are not related, who didn’t even know Rodney, but you came in and you gave up your time and your money and everything you can give to help support us. Because it’s easy to do for someone that you love. Anybody does that. But to do something for a stranger who you don’t know even know–that says it all.

Sandra: But see, you’re God’s angels to me. I know we’ve discussed that before, but you are.

He assigned you, whether you believe in Him or not, to do this. It’s His work. Through you guys. Those petitions that we attempted to submit to the DA! Eleven thousand signatures!

AND NOW it’s over fourteen thousand. 

Sandra: The signatures of people who we don’t know!

Rodrick: That’s what I’m saying. We have to be here. And if we’re any kind of good family and love our family, we have to do the things we have to do. But for all the hundreds and thousands of people trying to help us, that’s something to be proud of.

Sandra: Because if it was up to (only) our family, we would be screwed, glued and tattooed!

THAT BRINGS us to the last question: Is there anything that you want to say to people who already support Rodney? What can people be doing right now that helps the most? 

Sandra: What helps the most is do what you’ve been doing. I thank each and every one, the thousands and possibly millions of people that have viewed that documentary State vs. Reed and took an interest. I thank them all.

Rodrick: I thank you all, and I’m proud of you, because that’s doing something–when you’re in a situation where you don’t have to be, but you chose to be in it. You chose to be in this fight. You can sit down on the sidelines and watch it go down, but you said no. I stand up and I’m going to represent.

Sandra: How long have we been in this together? Fifteen years.

Rodrick: That means the world to me.

Sandra: And I love all of you.

– See more at: http://nodeathpenalty.org/new_abolitionist/december-2014-issue-62/conversation-sandra-and-rodrick-reed#sthash.rayBnNhb.dpuf

Dean Smith: On the Passing of a Death Penalty Abolitionist

Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, is a supporter of Rodney and has signed on to our clemency campaign. His newest piece, a memorial to Tar Heels basketball coach Dean Smith and his legacy as a death penalty abolitionist, is a reminder of the intersection between sports and social justice:

“Dean Smith was clear in his opposition to the death penalty. He knew death did not solve death and that the sentencing was racially biased. He knew that like a fixed game the results were unfair. Right now in North Carolina, we have had over seven individuals, mostly black, in recent years exonerated from death row declared wrongfully charged and convicted who would have been executed. This is more than any other state in the country. Based on this reality we can surmise that through the death penalty and the faults of racial and class bias we have probably killed innocent black and poor white persons in our state. We should have and still need to listen to Coach Smith’s vocal opposition and abandon the death penalty.”

RIP Coach Smith. We’ll keep fighting.

Micheal Jordan and Coach Dean Smith. Photo courtesy of StarNewsOnline

Micheal Jordan and Coach Dean Smith. Photo courtesy of StarNewsOnline

http://www.thenation.com/blog/197385/dean-smith-passing-death-penalty-abolitionist#

Don’t Let Texas Execute an(other) Innocent Man!

Greg Abbott has been governor of Texas for less than two weeks but he’s already overseen two executions. On Jan. 20, the day before Abbott was sworn in as the 48th governor of Texas, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged evidence that proved “beyond a shadow of doubt” that Texas executed an innocent man in 1989. Carlos de Luna was convicted of the murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk, during a 1983 robbery in Corpus Christi. Stevens referred to a book The Wrong Carlos by Columbia Law School professor James Liebman, saying that it had sufficiently demonstrated that “there is a Texas case in which they executed the wrong defendant and the person they executed did not in fact commit the crime for which he was punished.”

Share this excellent summation of Rodney’s case published in The New Abolitionist, presented in the context of Texas’ shameful disregard of innocence claims and its bloody record. Don’t let Rodney become another innocent person executed by our state! Get the facts and send a clemency letter to save Rodney’s life.

http://nodeathpenalty.org/new_abolitionist/december-2014-issue-62/dont-let-texas-execute-innocent-man