Politics & Government

Hundreds rally at Texas Governor’s Mansion in support of death row inmate Rodney Reed

Hundreds rallied Saturday afternoon in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin, hoping their pleas for death row inmate Rodney Reed’s execution to be stayed would reach the ears of the man who has the power to do so: Gov. Greg Abbott.

Standing just feet from Abbott’s residence, Rodney Reed’s mother, Sandra Reed, had a message for him.

“It is time for change. We need to scrutinize the people we vote in to serve and protect us. Because just as there are evildoers, we have good people, too. I heard that Governor Abbott is a good man. Well I say actions speak louder,” Reed said. “Show me and the world just how good of a man you are. Take into consideration all of what you know, all of what you’ve seen and the evidence. There are others that were before you that didn’t live up to their oath. Will you?

“Will you stop this wrongful and painful execution of my son? If you don’t, then you are just as guilty of murder.”

For many attendees who chanted, marched and signed petitions and letters requesting clemency, the rally was an urgent one as Reed’s execution date nears.

Reed is scheduled to be executed in less than two weeks, on Nov. 20. He was convicted for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop. His case has gained national attention, from politicians to high-profile celebrities who have requested his execution be postponed in light of new evidence. Many of Tarrant County’s state lawmakers have added their voices to the growing calls.

Reed, who is now 51 years old, has long maintained his innocence. His attorneys filed an application for clemency late last month, requesting that the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommend a commutation Reed’s death sentence to a life sentence.

Reed’s attorneys have pointed to Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell, as the killer, and noted in the application for clemency that new witnesses have come forward testifying to that fact, including an affidavit from a former inmate who said Fennell once told him he had killed his fiance.

The new evidence in the case wasn’t lost on the hundreds that gathered outside Abbott’s residence for over two hours.

Some held signs that read, “In Texas your race determines your rights”; “Execute justice, not Rodney Reed”; and “What if Reed was white and Fennell was black,” while security officers looked on from the lawn of the mansion.

After hearing death row exonerees, civil rights advocates — like activist Shaun King and attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the family of Attatiana Jefferson — and members of Reed’s family urge Abbott to take action, chants of “Free Rodney Reed” echoed from the streets, as those gathered circled the governor’s residence while they marched.

Heather Campbell Stobbs, a cousin of the victim, Stites, said Reed deserves a retrial at the very least. She pointed to Fennell as Stites’ murderer.

“It’s not justice for Stacey to incarcerate and kill a man when there are so many questions about her death. And we owe it to her to get this right,” Stobbs said.

Rodrick Reed, Rodney Reed’s brother, said the past 23 years have felt like a nightmare from which he can’t wake up. It has forever changed him, and he said his brother’s case is bigger than itself.

“This is not just about Rodney. This is about rights. This is about justice. This is about the truth,” Rodrick Reed said.

He called on those gathered to work toward ending the death penalty in Texas.

“I know it’s not going to be an easy job, but we can raise enough noise where they’ll give us a moratorium — a temporary state of all executions,” Rodrick Reed said. “If you can’t give it back, don’t take it. And you cannot give back a life once you have took it.”

The growing calls for action in Reed’s case have caught the attention of figures nationwide. Saturday morning, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz joined state lawmakers and celebrities like Oprah and Kim Kardashian West who have weighed in on the case.

“Having spent (years) in law enforcement, I believe capital punishment can be justice for the very worst murderers, but if there is credible evidence there’s a real chance the defendant is innocent, that evidence should be weighed carefully,” Cruz wrote on Twitter, calling for a delay in Reed’s execution to consider the evidence.

“If he’s guilty, the sentence should be carried out. But if he’s innocent, he should be freed,” Cruz later wrote.

Cruz was commenting on a bipartisan group of Texas state senators’ that have requested Abbott grant reprieve in Reed’s case, calling it “a remarkable bipartisan coalition.”

Dozens of both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers have recently spoken out on the case, including many of Tarrant County’s own.

On Tuesday, 26 House members sent a letter to Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, urging a reprieve be granted. Reps. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, and Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who serve on the recently created House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus signed on, in addition to Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake.

The letter cited a quote from former Gov. George W. Bush when he commuted the death sentence of Henry Lee Lucas in 1998.

“As a supported of the death penalty... I feel a special obligation to make sure the State of Texas never executes a person for a crime they may not have committed,” the letter quotes Bush saying.

A bipartisan group of 16 state senators quickly joined their call Friday with a letter of their own, and similarly requested for a reprieve in Reed’s case until the new leads could be properly explored. From the Tarrant County area, Sens. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, and Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, signed on.

Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, also sent a letter of his own Friday, requesting a 30-day reprieve, as did members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Since becoming governor in 2015, Abbott has stopped one execution and allowed 47 to proceed, according to the Texas Tribune. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

For decades, Texas has led the nation in executing more people than any other state in America, according to the Marshall Project’s “The Next To Die” project, which tracks executions nationwide.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.
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