When Rodney Reed was sent to death row 25 years ago, his crime was being a Black man in a racist Texas county who was guilty of having a consensual romantic relationship with a white woman. This crime has historically caused Black men to be lynched, or if they made it alive to the jail, to be charged with rape.
As Reed was being tried in 1998 for the murder of his friend Stacey Stites, outside the courthouse stood a monument to the Confederacy. The all-white jury, the prosecutors who hid exculpatory evidence and the cops who lied under oath meant the deck was stacked from the get-go.
In November of 2019, Reed was scheduled to be executed but got a last-minute stay of execution after a campaign to stop his legal lynching garnered international support. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered his case to be returned to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on his claims of innocence and the district attorney hiding evidence. That hearing lasted over a week and heard dozens of witnesses, from experts on determining time of death to friends who shared their personal information about the affair.
Three witnesses testified at the evidentiary hearing that Stites’s fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, knew Stites was having an affair with a Black man. Fennell had been a cop until he was convicted of sexual assault of a woman he stopped for a traffic violation. He served 10 years for that crime. Two people imprisoned with Fennell testified that Fennell told them he had killed Stites.
On June 28, the judge over the evidentiary hearing approved nearly verbatim the DA’s recommendation against Reed and found that none of Reed’s evidence was credible – therefore he did not deserve a new trial.
Jane Pucher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project and one of Mr. Reed’s attorneys, strongly denounced both the judge and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: “For 23 years, Texas illegally hid evidence that could have exonerated Rodney Reed. He is an innocent man. Texans should be outraged that prosecutorial misconduct is going unchecked and the State is being given a license to cheat – even if it means sending an innocent man to his death.
“Furthermore, Judge Langley rubber-stamped the State’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, including many obvious factual misrepresentations and misrepresentations of law. The abdication of the judge’s duty to be an unbiased, deliberative, independent fact finder cannot be tolerated, especially when an innocent man’s life is at stake.
“In 2019, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Rodney Reed’s execution to allow the courts to consider his Brady [material], false testimony and actual innocence claims, the CCA entrusted Judge Langley with making impartial findings and independent assessments of witnesses’ credibility, supported by the evidence. That did not happen. It is not plausible that Judge Langley could find every witness for the State to be credible and every witness called by Mr. Reed to be not credible.
“In this case, the State hid evidence pointing to Mr. Reed’s innocence for more than two decades. Mr. Reed’s conviction and death sentence violates the most central tenets of our Constitution and cannot stand. We will continue to fight for Mr. Reed’s freedom and bring him home to his family.” (tinyurl.com/2c99cm9z)
It is doubtful that an execution date will be scheduled for Reed, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Reed is entitled to the DNA testing that was never done on the murder weapon and other evidence.
The struggle continues. Free Rodney Reed!