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Celebrity activism by the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Pusha T, Kim Kardashian, and Shaun King skyrocketed over the weekend, as they and many more publicly signed a petition to prevent the upcoming execution of Rodney Reed.
Reed is scheduled for execution on November 20 for the murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas. In 1998, Reed was convicted by a jury, which many have pointed out was “all-white.”
According to a Change.org petition, “Mountains of evidence exonerates Rodney Reed. All of that evidence was kept from the all-white jury that convicted him. Instead, the evidence implicates the victim’s fiancé – local police officer Jimmy Fennell – who has a history of violence against women, including being convicted for kidnapping and sexual assault soon after Rodney was wrongly sent to prison.”
That petition has been signed nearly 2.5 million times, and is roughly 500,000 signatures away from reaching its goal of 3 million.
Kim Kardashian also made a comment about the case at the 2019 People’s Choice Awards, telling media: “seeing everyone rally around cases like Rodney Reed’s case that I’m so passionate about and getting people from both sides of the aisle to really come together and support something like a stay of execution from the governor of Texas. … I’m so proud that the right and the left are working together and I’m proud that the fans are following this journey with me.”
The problem is, though, that Rodney Reed has a long, well-documented history of sexual assaults according to Supreme Court documents.
According to information easily accessible on the Supreme Court’s website, Reed is responsible for a number of sexual assaults, and the only reason he was ever a suspect in his 1998 conviction was because he attempted to rape another woman, Linda Schlueter, at nearly the same time and place.
According to page five of the U.S. Supreme Court’s report:
“Reed became a suspect in Stites’s murder after he was arrested for kidnapping, beating, and attempting to rape and murder another nineteen-year-old woman, Linda Schlueter. Schlueter was abducted by Reed approximately six months after Stites’s murder, near both the route Stites typically took to work and the time she disappeared—3:00 a.m.. Moreover, Reed was regularly seen in this area by Bastrop police officers in the early morning hours, and his home was close to where both Stites’s and Schlueter’s vehicles were abandoned.”
Police were familiar with Reed, as he’d already been known to police for raping his intellectually disabled girlfriend Caroline Rivas.
“Given the similarities between these crimes, law enforcement inquired with DPS if they had Reed’s DNA profile on file; they did because Reed had raped his intellectually disabled girlfriend, Caroline Rivas. Reed’s DNA profile was compared to the foreign DNA inside and on Stites’s body—the two were consistent”
Though DNA testing has well-documented shortcomings, the results in Reed’s case were all considered conclusive. According to page six of the Supreme Court document:
“Reed could not be excluded as the foreign DNA contributor but 99% of the world’s population could be, and only one person in 24 to 130 billion people would have the same foreign DNA profile. But, to be sure, samples were taken from Reed’s father and three of his brothers, and they were ruled out as contributors too.”
The court document also thoroughly breaks down Reed’s forays against women.
His first instance was against Connie York, a 19-year-old who had come home late one night from a night with friends. According to Supreme court documents, “York was grabbed from behind and told, “don’t scream or I’ll hurt you.” When York did not listen, she was 8 repeatedly struck, dragged to her bedroom, and raped multiple times.”
Reed was interviewed, and, while he admitted that he knew York from high school, he denied raping her. When confronted with a search warrant for biological samples, Reed had an about-face, “Yeah, I had sex with her, she wanted it.” The case went to trial four years later, and Reed was acquitted.
Reed’s next assault was on a 12-year-old girl, A.W.
A.W. fell asleep on a couch while home alone, and woke up to Reed pushing her face into the couch, then being blindfolded, gagged, and repeatedly struck. The full details of that incident can be read on page 8 of the Supreme court document.
“The foreign DNA from A.W.’s rape kit was compared to Reed; Reed was not excluded and only one in 5.5 billion people would have the same foreign DNA profile from A.W.’s rape kit.”
That incident, as well as an additional four more sexual assaults which have DNA evidence pointing to Reed, are all outlined in the document above.
Additionally, Texas deputy assistant attorney general Lisa Tanner, who was the lead prosecutor for Reed’s case, stood by the court’s decision to convict him.
“A large amount of credible evidence, including irrefutable DNA evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the pattern Rodney Reed followed in committing his other sexual assaults, show beyond a reasonable doubt that he raped and murdered Stacey Stites,” Tanner said.
Tanner went on to tell CNN that more than 20 judges have reviewed Reed’s case over the past two decades, “and found no reversible error and no credible evidence that someone other than Mr. Reed might have been disposed toward committing this heinous crime.”
What advocates are saying
Groups working for Reed’s innocence, such as the Innocence Project, point out what they consider to be weaknesses in the case, such as the lack of DNA testing on the murder weapon, as well as forensic experts having admitted to errors within testimonies which led to Reed’s conviction.
Bryce Benjet, Reed’s attorney, told CNN that there are “mountains of evidence” that prove Reed’s innocence. Benjet also points to the then-fiance of the victim, Jimmy Fennell, as a suspect.
In the 1998 trial, Fennell testified that he was home alone with Stites, having stayed up with her to watch TV until he fell asleep at around 9 p.m. Stites left at about 3:30 a.m. for her shift at a grocery store.
Her pickup truck was found abandoned in the parking lot of a local high school, with her deceased body being found off a nearby rural road.
Reed became a suspect in Stites’s murder after he was arrested for kidnapping, beating, and attempting to rape and murder another nineteen-year-old woman, Linda Schlueter.
Ten years after a trial found Reed guilty, Fennell pleaded guilty to charges of improper sexual activity with a person in custody and a kidnapping in Georgetown, Texas, after a woman he detained accused him of rape. He was sentenced to 10 years.
Additionally, a former inmate who served time with Fennell said in an affidavit earlier this month that Fennell confessed to killing his fiance.
“Jimmy said his fiancée had been sleeping around with a black man behind his back,” wrote Arthur Snow Jr., who was serving a sentence for forgery in a Texas prison in 2010, in the affidavit.
“Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*****- loving fiancée,'” he wrote.
Support for Reed continues to grow, as social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements keep the flame alive. Recently, a group for 26 lawmakers wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in hopes of sparking a delay in Reed’s execution.
“Killing Rodney Reed without certainty about his guilt may exacerbate that issue and erode public trust—not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself,” the letter said.
On top of this, Heather Stobbs, Stites’s cousin, now feels that Reed was wrongly convicted, and possibly framed. She told the Fox affiliate in Austin that she has no doubt in her mind that Fennell did it.
According to Wikipedia, “newly available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration and release of more than 20 death row inmates since 1992 in the United States, but DNA evidence is available in only a fraction of capital cases.
Others have been released on the basis of weak cases against them, sometimes involving prosecutorial misconduct; resulting in an acquittal at retrial, charges dropped, or innocence-based pardons. The Death Penalty Information Center has published a list of 10 inmates ‘executed but possibly innocent.’ Of all executions in the United States, 144 prisoners have been exonerated while on death row.”