“Free Rodney Reed! Free Rodney Reed!”
That was the rallying cry that Texas Governor Greg Abbott heard up close and personal Saturday afternoon as hundreds of people took their fight to save him from a Nov. 20 execution to the governor’s mansion. The Statewide Rally was sponsored by Shaun King, a civil rights activist who launched a petition to save Reed from execution that has garnered over two million signatures, and Lee Merritt, a national civil rights attorney.
A day earlier, exonerated former death row prisoners also joined in on the fight to save Reed’s life, by delivering a letter to Abbott asking that he stop the execution because of new evidence that could possibly prove Reed’s innocence. And police officers across the country are weighing in their support as well.
“I looked at the autopsy report and I said he didn’t kill this young lady,” Kevin Gannon, former NYPD Homicide Detective said, according to KXAN. “They said how do you know? I said well she’s been dead for 24 hours, but she’s been missing for 12.”
Reed, 51, was convicted and sentenced to die in 1998 for the rape and strangulation murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. He has always maintained his innocence. He is being represented by lawyers from The Innocence Project, who have argued that Reed was denied a full and fair trial and that new evidence could exonerate him.
Recently, multiple people have come forward implicating Stites’ ex-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, in her death. Fennell was a former cop who pled guilty, and served time for kidnapping a woman while on duty. That woman claims he also raped her. Fennell was released from prison last year.
At yesterday’s rally, Merritt said the state needs to review this new evidence that was not at Reeds trial.
“We know that the belt that was used to kill Stacey Stites is available,” Merritt said. “It’s in evidence. It has not been tested.”
Merritt also pointed to expert testimony that was later recanted and said now there’s proof that Stites and Reed had a consensual sexual relationship – a claim that some of Stacey’s family members back.
“My aunt said to me was that Rodney would come … and visit her while she was at work,” Stacey’s cousin Heather Campbell Stobbs said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler also is asking that the governor prevent a travesty of justice from taking place.
“There just seems to be a lot of doubt, and we shouldn’t be taking someone’s life – something that is irrevocable – and do that in a situation where there is so much doubt. I hope that the governor considers a reprieve,” Adler said, according to CBS Austin.
In October, Arthur J. Snow Jr., a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang, gave a sworn affidavit that he personally heard Fennell confess to Stites’ murder while serving time in prison with him, according to The New York Times. He said Fennell bragged about killing his fiancée because she had cheated on him with a Black man. In the affidavit, Snow said he thought Fennell confessed to the killing to try and impress him and other gang members, whom he had sought out for protection.
Also, Jim Clampit, a former sheriff’s deputy, alleges that at Stites’ funeral, Fennell looked at her body and said, “You got what you deserved,” according to The Times.
With all of this new evidence, we also would like to lend our voice to the fight and implore that Gov. Abbott stop the execution immediately.