Thursday, 31 July 2008

New evidence could clear death row inmate Rodney Reed.

I am very pleased to read that there is new evidence which could finally clear Rodney Reed, who has been on death row in Texas since 1998 and I send my very best regards to Rodney and to his mother, Sandra Reed, who has worked tirelessly to clear her son's name since his conviction. Good luck Rodney and Sandra.

Who is Rodney Reed?

"Rodney Reed has been on Texas’ death row since 1998. He was convicted for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in the small town of Bastrop. Stacey’s brutal murder struck at the very heart of the community, not only for its brutality, but for the sinister chain of events it would set into motion. Rodney’s case is a troubling mixture of prosecutoral misconduct, police corruption, poor defense, and institutional racism. Evidence of Rodney’s innocence is overwhelming and the need for a new trial is indisputable.

Rodney was convicted on the basis of one piece of evidence. His DNA was found in a semen sample taken from Stacey’s body at the scene of the crime. Conventional wisdom would suggest such evidence is the nail in the coffin of any capital murder case, not least of all one including an alleged rape. However, Rodney’s court-appointed attorneys (two African American lawyers afraid to spend nights in a small Texas town like Bastrop) neglected to provide witnesses who would testify that Rodney and Stacey were engaged in a sexual relationship at the time of her tragic death. No other evidence in the case connected Rodney to Stacey or the crime scene. Yet, Rodney, his family, and his supporters would soon learn that evidence of a Black man engaged in sexual relationship with a white woman in a small Texas town would be more than enough to frame him for murder and send him to death row.

Stacey was also engaged to Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell at the time of her murder. Witnesses would later testify – both inside and outside the courtroom – that Fennell had a violent temper and was prone to jealousy. During one of Rodney’s appeals, a fellow police academy graduate would swear under oath that she heard Fennell say he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt (in order to hide fingerprints) if she ever cheated on him. Stacey’s recorded cause of death was strangulation with a belt. Shortly following Stacey’s murder, Fennell was transferred to the Georgetown Police Department just north of Austin. Last year, a grand jury indicted him on abduction and sexual assault charges. The alleged victim was a woman in his custody."

An article in the Austin Chronicle, dated July 25th reports on new evidence submitted to the Court of Criminal Appeals on July 16th, which could clear Rodney.

"In a writ filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals on July 16, attorneys for death row inmate Rodney Reed are arguing that new evidence uncovered about the conduct of victim Stacey Stites' police-officer fiancé bolster Reed's claim of innocence. In court filings, Reed attorney Bryce Benjet tells the court not only that a witness has come forward to confirm that Reed and Stites were having an affair prior to her death, but also that there is additional evidence regarding Jimmy Fennell's apparent proclivity toward sexual violence."

The Austin Chronicle

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