US

Death Penalty for Rodney Reed Indefinitely Stayed

By Victor Westerkamp

A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted death row inmate Rodney Reed indefinite reprieve of execution after he gained the support of an unlikely coalition of family members, bipartisan lawmakers, lawyers, and celebrities.

“We are extremely relieved and thankful that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of execution for our client Rodney Reed,” his lawyer Bryce Benjet said in a statement to TIME on Friday. “This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence.”

Pressure was building up last week as the scheduled date for Reed’s execution, Nov. 20, was drawing near. But just five days before Reed would have to take a lethal injection, the countdown was halted.

Rodney Reed’s brother, Rodrick Reed leads a chant during a protest against the execution of Rodney Reed in Bastrop, Texas on Nov. 13, 2019. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

Reed, 51, had been on death row in Texas for more than two decades, always maintaining his innocence in the case of the brutal murder and rape of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996.

One year into the investigation, Reed was arrested on charges of a similar crime, and detectives found his DNA on Stites’ body.

Reed alleged the two were having a secret affair at that time, weeks before Stites was to marry police officer Jimmy Fennell.

Reed had also been considered a suspect in six prior cases and had no witnesses who could confirm his story.

An all-white jury decided Reed had committed the crime, and Reed embarked on a 20-year-long journey toward the final countdown.

But Reed kept fighting for his case and garnered the support of the Innocence Project, a rare confluence of lawyers, relatives, activists, politicians, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna.

Nearly 3 million people signed a petition to ask Governor Gragg Abbott to stop the execution.

As it turned out, evidence was withheld during his trial, and other evidence was omitted. On top of that, new witnesses came forward and testified in favor of Reed and brought new information to light that pointed in the direction of Stites’ fiancé, Fennell.

Fennell was in prison until 2018, serving ten years for the rape of a woman he had in custody while he was a police officer. When Fennell was in jail, another inmate says Fennell bragged about how he killed his fiancé for her having an affair with a black man.

These facts and several other inconsistencies urged the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to request Governor Greg Abbott grant a 120-day reprieve to Reed on Friday.

But the Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t wait for Abbott’s reply. It decided unilaterally that Reed would be granted an indefinite reprieve, bringing the death penalty off the table.