While a joyful crowd celebrated the inauguration of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, about 20 people gathered Tuesday near the Capitol in hopes of persuading the new governor to grant clemency to Rodney Reed, a black man sent to death row for the 1996 rape and murder of a white woman, Stacey Stites, near Bastrop.
Reed has maintained his innocence, and supporters have criticized the state for not taking a closer look at Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a Georgetown police officer who was later convicted of raping a woman while on duty.
At the protest yesterday, supporters chanted and held signs that read “Governor Abbott don’t kill an innocent man” and “Drop the Date! Test the DNA,” while cars driving by blew their horns in support.
Reed was convicted of killing Stites and sentenced to death in 1998. He is scheduled for execution on March 5. His family and supporters, including members of Stites’ family, are requesting that evidence in the case be tested for DNA. They’re also calling on Abbott to grant him clemency if the courts fail to order additional DNA testing.
“If they are so sure he is guilty, why not let them prove it and let us test the DNA?” said Cindy Beringer, an Austin volunteer with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. “Just to deny this extra testing and new technology to me seems illogical, but the town of Bastrop has really tried to cover up a lot.”
On Nov. 25, 2014, visiting Judge Doug Shaver denied Reed’s request to have various pieces of evidence related to the crime tested, including a leather belt used to strangle Stites. Supporters believe that Fennell’s DNA could be found, clearing Reed of wrongdoing. The sole physical evidence linking Reed to the murder was semen found inside Stites’ body. However, Reed has acknowledged having an affair with Stites. Shaver denied the request, stating that even if the evidence had been tested during Reed’s trial, the jury’s decision wouldn’t have changed.
The decision is on appeal at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, according to The Intercept.
Lily Hughes, the national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said Reed has been frustrated in his search for justice in the courts.
“Over the years we have been trying to get a hearing from everybody from the district attorney in Bastrop County to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana, all the way to the Supreme Court,” Hughes said.
Abbott has remained silent on the issue, and former Gov. Rick Perry has apparently never acknowledged the case.
Organizers say they will continue to fight for Reed even though his execution date is just six weeks away.
“We are trying to think of everything we can to save his life,” Beringer said.