Rodrick Reed, told a crowd demonstrating for his brother Rodney Reed’s freedom May 19: “Twenty-five years is a long time to have your family ripped apart and unjustly so. Twenty-five years is a long time for anybody to be down there on death row for a crime they did not commit. All we’ve ever asked for out of the gate is a fair trial.”
A large crowd of Reed’s family and his supporters from around Texas and around the U.S. was listening outside the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. They had come to remember the 25-year anniversary of Rodney Reed’s death sentence and to shine a light on the racist injustice that led to it.
Rodney Reed, who is African American, was tried and sentenced to death on May 18, 1998, for the murder of Stacy Stites, who was white. The rally held May 19 culminated two days of actions for the condemned prisoner. A social media blitz May 18 preceded the rally.
The rally was opened by Angie Agapetus, an activist with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement in Houston, who commemorated the execution of her dear friend Quinton Jones on this day two years earlier.
Delia Perez-Meyer spoke passionately about her brother, Louis Castro Perez, who is on Texas death row and whose case points to his innocence. In fact, the Innocence Project in New York is working on both her brother’s case as well as Reed’s.
Rodney Reed has been trying for years to get evidence from the crime scene tested for DNA, including the belt used to strangle Stites. Texas courts and the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans have only ruled that Reed waited too long to ask for the testing.
Finally, in April, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Reed’s request was within the legal time frame and sent the request for testing back to the Fifth Court of Appeals.
Reed’s guilt ‘impossible’
In an unusual development, former police detective Kevin Gannon, a 20-year veteran with the New York City Police Department, became an independent investigator for Reed and is now an advocate for his freedom. Gannon, who now lives in Seattle, visited Bastrop, Texas, where the Reed family lives. He carried out his own independent investigation of Stites’ murder.
Gannon stated his conviction that Reed is innocent: “It is physically impossible that Reed could have committed this murder. Other experts, forensic pathologists, agree with me. It is just not possible with the facts we now know about the timeline of her killing.”
Student Minister Robert Muhammad with the Nation of Islam in Austin, and a longtime supporter of Reed, presented an emotional talk about the injustice the whole Reed family has suffered.
Herman Lindsey, the executive director of Witness to Innocence, was a keynote speaker at the rally. Lindsey, who spent several years on death row in Florida before being exonerated, said, “I just want to say to those who have the control to fix this for Rodney, they need to do it. It’s okay to fix a wrong. The wrong done to Rodney must be fixed.”
State Rep. Jolanda Jones of Houston rushed out of the Texas capitol across a grassy area to join the rally to be with the Reed family. Jones comes from a family of activists and has a long history of fighting oppression. As a radical lawyer, a Black woman and a lesbian, she knows firsthand how the injustice system works against people of color and poor people.
“I came out of the legislative session for a minute,” said Jones, “because I’m opposed to the death penalty and know that Rodney Reed was framed up because he was dating a white woman. Justice delayed is not justice, because you can never get back the time a person is wrongfully locked up. I stand with the Reed family and all of you here today. Just never give up. Keep the pressure on. Texas is hardheaded, and justice is hard to find.”
‘I will not be quiet’
Sandra Reed, Rodney’s mother, has supported her son’s struggle since the moment he was sentenced to die. She has spoken for him around the country, from her small town of Bastrop to Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. And she has spoken every year at Texas’ annual death penalty march and rally.
Sandra Reed has gained the support of activist and author Sister Helen Prejean, one of the best-known death penalty abolitionists.
“No matter how old my kids are, they are still my babies. And our family has not been whole since they did this to Rodney, I will not be quiet. Never will I shut my mouth. I will fight until the day that Rodney walks out of the prison a free man,” Sandra Reed told Workers World.
A cousin to the Reed brothers, Jonathan Piper, ended the event by doing a rap song he wrote for Rodney in 2015 and has performed at numerous rallies.
This 25th anniversary was filled with love, anger, hope, passion, disgust, commitment and frustration. But as Sandra Reed told supporters afterward: “I love all of you so much and am so grateful that our family is not alone. We did it today. We had a great rally. We had lots and lots of media there. I can’t wait to tell Rodney how good it went. He will be thankful and happy. We are going to win. I know it in my heart.”
Gloria Rubac is a founding member of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.