LIVINGSTON, Texas (NBC News) – On death row for nearly 22 years, Rodney Reed is now just days away from execution.
But his case is attracting attention from a growing list of celebrities who hope to persuade Governor Greg Abbott to stay Reed’s execution. More than a million people have signed an online petition to stop it.
And earlier this week,the newly-formed, bipartisan Texas House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus and two other Republicans joined the call, asking Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for more time to review Reed’s new findings.
The group, made up of 26 state lawmakers evenly divided between the Democratic and Republican parties, sent a letter to Abbott, urging him to grant Reed a reprieve:
” Dear Governor Abbott, Chair Gutiérrez, and Board Members:
We write to urge you to grant a reprieve to Rodney Reed.
As you know, the case that put Mr. Reed on death row has been called into serious question by compelling new witness statements and forensic evidence along with evidentiary gaps that could be filled with additional investigation and testing. We appreciate how difficult decisions like this are and know how seriously you take them, but this is also an opportunity for you to prevent a rush to execution before these new leads are properly explored.
One thing we often grapple with when discussing criminal justice reform is balancing justice with mercy, particularly when we consider a heinous crime. Yet one of the reasons that is so difficult to do in a capital case is because, at times, we find defects within our system that give even those who support the concept of the death penalty pause. Killing Rodney Reed without certainty about his guilt may exacerbate that issue and erode public trust—not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself.
Mr. Reed’s case recalls the sentiment then-Governor George W. Bush expressed in 1998 when he commuted the sentence against Henry Lee Lucas in the face of grave doubt about his guilt. “As a supporter of the death penalty . . . I feel a special obligation to make sure the State of Texas never executes a person for a crime they may not have committed,” he said. “I take this action so that all Texas can continue to trust the integrity and fairness of our justice system.”
Similarly, granting Mr. Reed a reprieve until the new developments in his case are fully resolved will allow the cloud of doubt surrounding his guilt to be lifted. Only then should our justice system proceed, one way or the other, with decisions that cannot be undone. We thank you for your thoughtful consideration and your leadership on this issue.”– Texas House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus
Reed, now 51, was convicted of raping and killing 19 year old Stacey Stites in Bastrop in 1996. His semen was found inside her body.
But Reed and several witnesses who have come forward since his conviction have maintained that he and Stites were in a relationship. And Reed and his lawyers have tried to throw suspicion upon Jimmy Fennell, Stites’ fiance and a police officer at the time of her murder.
Complicating the matter is that both Reed and Fennell have been accused of multiple sexual assaults. Reed was indicted for but never convicted of several other rape cases months before his trial in Stites’ death began in 1998.
Fennell spent 10 years in prison after he kidnapped and allegedly raped a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007.
Reed’s lawyers point to developments since his 1998 conviction:
- witnesses who say Fennell made threatening and racist statements about the affair;
- new forensic analysis raising doubts about basic facts like the time and place Stites was killed;
- and a former prison inmate who says Fennell bragged about killing Stites while Fennell served a 10-year prison sentence for improper sexual activity with another woman.
Fennell’s attorney Robert Phillips denies Reed’s allegations.
“He’s got great lawyers, very creative.” Phillips said. “They keep coming up with witnesses out of the woodwork.”
The Texas Attorney General’s office says after reviews by more than 20 judges, it’s time to see that justice is done at last.
Reed is set to be executed on November 20. With 14 days left, he has appeals pending all the way up to the supreme court..