Category Archives: Death Penalty News

Sister Helen Prejean tweets in support of Rodney

September 4, 2019

Sister Helen Prejean, renowned death penalty abolitionist and author of Dead Man Walking, tweeted this week in support of Rodney Reed.

“If prosecutors are confident that Rodney is guilty, then why block DNA testing? Maybe it’s because there was another suspect who failed multiple polygraph tests but was never thoroughly investigated. That man went on to do prison time for other crimes against women”

That man is Jimmy Fennell, the fiance of Stacey Stites. Fennell spent ten years in prison for the rape of a woman in his custody as a Georgetown, Texas, police officer.

You can read the tweet thread here. Full text is below.

She also questioned the timing of Rodney’s latest execution date:

“June 29: Rodney Reed’s family speaks at an anti-death penalty event in D.C.
July 11: Local newspaper in Bastrop, TX, prints a front-page article about the Reed family’s advocacy.
July 15: Bastrop DA’s office requests an execution date for Rodney.

Coincidence? Doubt it.”

Sister Helen has supported Rodney for many years. She traveled to Austin, Texas, to show her support in February 2015. In an interview with Al Jazeera, she spoke of Rodney’s innocence and the racism at the heart of the US justice system.

Text of Sister Helen’s tweet thread, September 2, 2019:

“Texas plans to execute Rodney Reed on November 20th. Prosecutors and lawyers for the state have rep”eatedly blocked DNA testing on several items found at the crime scene. In other words, they want to execute Rodney without ever doing tests that could prove he is innocent.

If prosecutors are confident that Rodney is guilty, then why block DNA testing? Maybe it’s because there was another suspect who failed multiple polygraph tests but was never thoroughly investigated. That man went on to do prison time for other crimes against women.

The alternative suspect, Jimmy Fennell, was Stacey Stites’s fiancé. He failed the polygraph on this question: “Did you strangle Stacey?” He was never thoroughly investigated after failing the test. Why? It might have something to do with his role as a local police officer.

A Dallas-area police officer has come forward with a chilling story. At a police training session in 1995, Jimmy Fennell said he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt (no fingerprints) if he ever caught her cheating. Stacey Stites was strangled with her own belt in 1996.

In 2007, Jimmy Fennell raped a woman he had detained while on-duty as a police officer in Georgetown, Texas. He put a gun against her head and told her that he would hunt her down and kill her if she reported the rape. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years.

Are prosecutors and police trying to hide something by blocking DNA testing of crime scene evidence? There are so many red flags in Rodney Reed’s case. Why the rush to execute him now?”

Rodney headed back to court on October 10, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued a ruling in the Rodney’s case – ordering new  a hearing in front of the Bastrop District Court.

The hearing is set to begin on October 10 and run for 3-4 days. The hearing was granted to examine a witness statement uncovered in a yet to be aired CNN interview that further cast doubt on the whereabouts of Jimmy Fennell, Jr., who was Stacey’s fiance at the time of her murder, and who many consider to be the real perpetrator of the crime.

From a recent KXAN story:

“Reed’s attorneys say Fennell gave conflicting accounts about his actions the night his fiancé was strangled with a belt. Fennell told police he was at home the night of April 22, 1996, and the following morning. Fennell said he had been at home and fell asleep before Stites left early in the morning to drive from Giddings to an H-E-B grocery store in Bastrop, according to court records. She never arrived for her morning shift.

Reed’s defense team says it has evidence that Fennell told a different story to Bastrop Sheriff’s Office Deputy Curtis Davis. In a recorded interview, Davis said he was with Fennell the morning Stites disappeared, after it was reported, and Fennell said he had been out the night before drinking and came home late. Fennell’s statement to Davis could cast doubt on his alibi.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals has reviewed Rodney’s case many times, and leading up to his execution date, they ordered hearings to review whether or not Rodney should receive DNA testing on key items from the crimes scene. The hearings were held by the Bastrop district court, which recommended against testing, following which, the CCA denied his appeal and he received the March 5, 2015 execution date. However, that was halted based on new evidentiary claims. An appeal to grant the DNA testing was subsequently denied in 2016.

The court has had Rodney’s recent appeal in front of them since 2015 – in which Rodney argues that he has proven his innocence through all the evidence put forward , including newly discovered forensic evidence casting doubt on the time of Stacey’s death, that was presented at trial. The court didn’t agree with Rodney’s claim that new evidence proved his innocence. But they agreed with his claim that the prosecution withheld newly discovered evidence that supports his innocence claim, saying the evidence “shows that the State presented false and misleading testimony, which violated his right to due process.”

The order states that, ”

“After reviewing the 2016 application, we find that applicant has failed to make a prima facie showing of actual innocence. However, we further find that his Brady and false testimony claims do satisfy the requirements of Article 11.071 § 5. Accordingly, we remand those claims to the trial court for resolution. Applicant has also filed in this Court and the trial court a “Motion for Deposition of Curtis Davis.” We leave it to the trial court to rule on this motion as it sees fit.”

This marks the first time since Rodney’s execution was halted in 2015 that there is a positive action from the courts regarding Rodney’s appeal. This latest piece of evidence is just one more link in the chain that binds Fennell to Stacey’s murder – and shows that Rodney is innocent! Rodney supporters will be working to build a presence at the hearings – as well as a series of activities to support Rodney over the next few months. Please check back at the upcoming events page here and on Facebook.com/texasinjustic for more information.

Court Denies Rodney Reed’s Request for DNA Testing

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Austin American Statesman reports:

Texas’ highest criminal court Wednesday denied death row inmate Rodney Reed’s request for DNA testing on items related to the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County.

The 8-0 decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said the possibility of cross-contamination limited the usefulness of many of the items Reed wanted tested, and results from other items would not have resulted in his acquittal.

The court also said that Rodney failed to prove that the request for testing “was not for the purpose of unreasonable delay”, a claim insulting on its face, but especially because this court waited more than two years to make this ruling.

This denial is disheartening, but it is separate from Rodney’s habeas petition also filed in February of 2015, based on new forensic evidence, that contests the timeline of the version of events claimed by the State.

Follow the We Demand Justice facebook page for calls to action and next steps.
https://www.facebook.com/texasinjustice/

The CCA’s full opinion can be read here.

 

Ball in the CCA’s Court: the struggle continues for Rodney Reed

A new piece from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty outlines the current status of the case of Rodney Reed and describes all the hard work by activists, lawyers, filmmakers, investigators and journalists that lead the recent stay of execution and the uncovering of new evidence.

Lily Hughes, national director of the CEDP, clarifies where Rodney’s case is in the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA):

Although Rodney has been given a stay of execution, the fight is far from over. The Court has agreed to look at Rodney’s new appeal, but there are no guarantees of a favorable ruling. One possibility is that the court could look at the evidence and opt to deny relief, as they have done in the past.

Another possibility is that the CCA could order a new trial. This wouldn’t be unwelcome to Rodney and his supporters. However, if the evidence of innocence is strong enough to warrant a new trial, then it would make better sense for the court to reverse the conviction altogether.

The best possible outcome from the CCA would be a reversal of Rodney’s conviction and for Rodney to be released from prison. In this event, the Bastrop County district attorney could still opt to take Rodney to trial again, in which case activists should demand that the DA drop Rodney’s indictment completely.

The article is a great comprehensive of the history of the campaign to demand justice for Rodney, a campaign that continues!

The various options before the Court make the ongoing activist campaign for Rodney paramount. Rodney’s family and supporters are prepared to carry on the fight. As Rodney’s brother Rodrick Reed said at a rally in February, “If we don’t stand up today, we’re going to lay down tomorrow for anything they’re going to make us lay down for. And I ain’t a laying down kind of guy. I’m a fighter, I come from a family of fighters!”

This site will be updated as soon as the Court issues a ruling.

A rally for justice outside the Texas State Capitol in February 2015

A rally for justice outside the Texas State Capitol in February 2015

Sandra and Rodrick Reed address a crowd outside the Texas Governors Mansion in February, 2015. Photo by Jaynna Sims

Sandra and Rodrick Reed address a crowd outside the Texas Governors Mansion in February, 2015. Photo by Jaynna Sims

Texas votes to keep execution drug manufacturers a (dirty) secret

The Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Senate has approved a bill that would hide the names of execution drug providers from the public. Senate Bill 1697 passed 23-8.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, told lawmakers her legislation was a “practical solution” to the harassment and threats faced by companies providing the state prison system with pentobarbital, the single drug used in Texas to execute inmates convicted of capital murder.

“Discussion in the public area has led to a chilling effect for companies who want to supply this compound to the state of Texas,” she said. “There are very few doses left of the drug that’s currently being administered.”

Hiding the names of unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies is a new development in Texas’ embarrassing history of capital punishment. Because these businesses have contracts with the state, their names were available to public until just two years ago. After European-based companies refused to sell their supplies of pentobarbital if its intended purpose was the murder of human beings, Texas turned to The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy for its lethal drugs in 2013. The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy claims that the public knowledge of their shady deal lead to “threats” against their business.

If companies can’t conduct their tax-funded business with the state in the public view, then they shouldn’t be in this shameful business at all. It’s telling that state lawmakers can band together to protect pharma manufacturers from the “chilling effect” of public outcry, but do nothing to secure justice for the wrongfully incarcerated. The Texas Legislature has again reaffirmed its commitment to executions, but abolitionists in Texas and across the world won’t stop until there’s justice for Rodney Reed and the other men and women on death row.

“My brother is still locked up, and the fight must continue until we bring him home…after that, we still must fight for justice.”

Rodrick Reed, brother of Rodney, spoke to a University of Texas at Austin students last night.

“A lot of people have relaxed, thinking he’s on his way home, but we still have to fight,” Rodrick said. “My brother is still locked up, and the fight must continue until we bring him home, and even after that, we still must fight for justice.”

“Without the public, my brother wouldn’t have stood a chance,” Rodrick said. “They would have probably executed him on March 5. [Rodney said to me,] ‘I’ve lost both my grandmothers in [jail.] Now I’ve lost my dad, and I’ve lost several uncles, and my family is going away, but I have not lost hope.’”

Rodrick was joined by Ben Wolff of the Texas Defender Service and Ana Hernandez of the UT chapter of Amnesty International. “Here’s the urgency about this: No one’s won,” Wolff said. “Rodney’s still on death row, and he’s still there unjustly and an innocent man. The first time the state of Texas seeks to execute someone, they have to give at least 90 days’ notice. The second time, … 30 days.”

Hernandez added “I think that stressing the indignity of his current situation and the fact that it is unjust for an innocent person to face those circumstances for over 18 years — I think that finding a way to convey that kind of urgency is important. There is no end date for your activism.”

Panel discussion April 27, 2015

The panel followed a die-in hosted a few days earlier in one of the University’s busy pedestrian areas. The die-in highlighted Rodney’s case but also the oppressive conditions of Texas death row. A 6 foot by 10 foot area was marked off on the ground, representing the size of a death row cell. Demonstrators lay down on the pavement for 10 minutes with signs about Rodney and the racist application of the death penalty.

UT die-in

UT die-in

Today we mourn the passing of Rodney’s father, Walter Reed

It is with great sadness that we learned Rodney’s father, Walter Reed, passed away last night. He had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time, with his condition worsening over the last few months; his wife Sandra had been his full time caregiver. This was all happening while Rodney was fighting for his life, so it has been a very difficult time for the Reed family.
Says Lily Hughes, director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, “Many of us have know Walter for years – although he didn’t often take the microphone, he was a passionate advocate for Rodney. Even when he couldn’t walk – or march – in a demonstration, he would ride on his motorized wheelchair, which he often decorated with signs. He has been a loving father to his six sons and a great support to Sandra during their long marriage.”

We are all so sad that Walter wasn’t able to live to see Rodney freed, but we’ll all keep fighting. Rest in Peace, Walter Reed.

Walter Reed, Rodney's father, with a young supporter outside the Texas State Capitol Building

Walter Reed, Rodney’s father, with a young supporter outside the Texas State Capitol Building

Condolence cards can be sent by email via JPay. or mailed to Rodney at:

Rodney Reed #999271
Polunsky Unit Death Row
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, Texas 77351

Messages for Sandra and the rest of the Reed family can be sent care of
Campaign to End the Death Penalty National Office
PO Box 25730
Chicago, IL 60625

Video: Rodney Reed reflects on his stay of execution

March 5, 2015: The state of Texas intended to kill Rodney Reed today, but his family, his lawyers, a vibrant defense campaign, and Rodney himself fought hard to make sure that didn’t happen. We still have a big fight ahead of us, but today we celebrate our victory.

Yesterday, TWC News reporter Alex Stockwell interviewed Rodney in the visitation room of the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Click here for a video of Rodney talking about the stay and how he’s dealt with coming so close to being executed.

“I really don’t try to entertain death because once you get consumed with something like that, it takes away from you. I just don’t try to entertain anything like that,” Reed said. “For the time being everyone has a date, and I’ve been here almost, right at 18 years. I’m kind of numb to how to ride this roller coaster.”

As Alex reminds us, March 5 was not Rodney’s first scheduled execution and it may not be his last.

Reed says he’s hopeful that there will be a DNA evidence hearing, and that this time around, that evidence will work out in his favor.

“Because of the way the system is structured, you have to prove the alternative suspect,” Reed said. “I’m very optimistic that if the courts are willing to acknowledge this evidence that we have, because this evidence is not made up. If they’re willing to acknowledge it, I feel like they will give me the better judgment on this.”

Rodney remains hopeful and we do too! We’ll keep fighting until he’s free.

(Alex also reported on our Valentine’s Day action for Rodney. You can watch that video here.)

Death Penalty Opponents host “Day of Innocence” at the Texas State Capitol featuring Death Row Exonerees

On Tuesday, March 3, a group of death row exonerees called on Texas lawmakers to abolish the death penalty. Witness to Innocence members Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler were joined by Texas State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), family members and friends of death row prisoners, and Mark Clements, board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and one of Rodney Reed’s fiercest advocates.

The group lobbied Texas lawmakers to approve legislation that would abolish the death penalty and prohibit the “law of parties” from being used in capital cases. This controversial law, unique to Texas in its application, allows people convicted of aiding or abetting in a murder committed by another person to be sentenced to death.

Sabrina Butler is the first and only woman to be exonerated from death row. Convicted when she was just 17 years old, she served over six years in prison in Mississippi before being cleared of all wrong doing.

Reports Austin’s KVUE:

Despite being the only woman in the U.S. exonerated after being sentenced to death, Butler’s life will never be the same. She has trouble finding employment, because she must still admit her conviction on job applications.

“That’s the part that makes me feel still like I’m in prison, because this will affect my life, not only my life, my children’s life,” Butler said.

Ron Keine spent two years on death row in New Mexico before being exonerated after a police officer admitted that he had actually committed the murder. “[The cop] went to the nearest church and confessed,” Keine said. “That’s what got me out. It wasn’t any maneuvering by lawyers.”

Texas State Rep. Harold shakes hands with Mark Clements at a press conference to show his support for abolition of the death penalty in Texas. Mark Clements spent 28 years in prison serving a juvenile life without parole sentence before he was finally cleared as Sabrina Butler looks on. Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network is at the podium.  Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Texas State Rep. Harold shakes hands with Mark Clements at a press conference to show his support for abolition of the death penalty in Texas. Sabrina Butler looks on. Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network is at the podium. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

Ron Keine, assistant director with Witness to Innocence, speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty at a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Ron Keine, assistant director with Witness to Innocence, speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty at a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

Rep. Harold Dutton told the Dallas Morning News, “I don’t want the state executing people in my name. You can go all the way through the system and be factually innocent and end up on death row, which is evidence by some of the people here. How many people has Texas executed who might have been innocent?” The Dallas Morning News, whose editorial position has been firmly anti-death penalty since 2007, created this revealing graphic  that, in their words, “gives a lot to chew on”. Texas has executed 521 men and women since capital punishment was reinstated in 1973.

People with the Witness to Innocence speak in support of abolishing the death penalty including Mark Clements, right, who spent 28 years in prison serving a juvenile life without parole sentence before he was finally cleared, and Sabrina Butler, the only woman  exonerated from death row, at left.  Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman

Mark Clements speaks in support of abolishing the death penalty. At left is Sabrina Butler, the only woman exonerated from death row. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

The Austin American Statesman posted a  short video clip of Mark Clements, who was freed based on police misconduct after serving 28 years in prison. Mark attended the lobby day on behalf of Rodney Reed’s family. “Don’t reject these men and women [lobbying their representatives]. Give them their chance. Free Rodney Reed”. A photo gallery is available here.

At the day’s news conference, Terri Been tearfully pleaded for her brother, Jeff Wood, to be removed from death row. Wood was convicted under the state’s law of parties for a killing committed by his partner in a 1996 robbery in Kerrville. In 2008, Wood, who was found not mentally fit to stand trial, won a stay from a federal judge just hours before his scheduled execution. He remains on death row.

Rodney Reed’s supporters can email Rep. Dutton and thank him for his continued commitment to justice and ending the death penalty in Texas. Dutton has filed bills opposing the death penalty every legislative session since 2003. None has made it out of committee, but Dutton said he refuses to give up. “I think Texas ought not be in the death penalty business until we get the systems fixed … until we can guarantee that no one who is executed is innocent,” Dutton said. “We’ll keep pushing it”

(Many thanks to the Texas Moratorium Network for their continued work around Lobby Day)

Organized by the Texas Moratorium Network, the "Day of Innocence" brought together exonerated death row prisoners, Rep. Harold Dutton, and friends and family members of men and women on Texas death row.

Organized by the Texas Moratorium Network, the “Day of Innocence” brought together exonerated death row prisoners, Rep. Harold Dutton, and friends and family members of men and women on Texas death row. Photo by Scott Cobb.

Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine stand in the House Chamber inside the Texas Capitol  Photo by Scott Cobb

Mark Clements, Sabrina Butler, and Ron Keine stand in the House Chamber inside the Texas Capitol.
Photo by Scott CobbSabrina Butler, who is the only woman to be exonerated from death row, holds a copy of her life story after she spoke along with people with the Witness to Innocence in support of abolishing the death penalty at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman Sabrina Butler holds a copy of her life story after she spoke along with people with the Witness to Innocence in support of abolishing the death penalty at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo by Ralph Barrera for the Austin American Statesman.

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!”