Tag Archives: Faith Community

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/

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

 

“Governor Abbott is a Catholic lone-wolf on Death Penalty”

The Houston Chronicle posted an opinion piece on the contradictory nature of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Catholic faith and his commitment to the death penalty. Writes Rev. Marty Troyer:

Today I heard you [Abbott] invoke God’s grace for yourself, while consciously planning to refuse it for those on Texas’ death row; including Arnold Prieto, age 41, who is scheduled to be your first execution on the second day of your Governorship (Wednesday). Perhaps I’m just confused. Or perhaps the cognitive dissonance I and others experience between your faith and politics is an integrity gap that will have grave implications.

Undoubtedly it will further the cycle of violence in Texas (“those who live by the sword will die by the sword”). Likely it will lead to the death of an innocent; and thus unmask the moral bankruptcy of our social imagination in the same way Jesus’ unjust execution did.

 

Pope Francis has called for an end to the death penalty . Perhaps new governor Abbott can be swayed by his church’s highest official. If you are a member of the faith community and would like to join the growing number of Austin-area clergy in support of Rodney, please contact us to add your or your congregation’s name!