Clergy in Texas have joined efforts to spare the life of convicted murderer Rodney Reed. A group of pastors met last week, urging Governor Greg Abbott to stop the November 20 execution of Reed, who has been on death row for more than two decades.
Reed, who was found guilty of the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, has maintained his innocence. Local law enforcement officials, a bipartisan group of state legislators, and celebrities are rallying to support Reed, 51.
They’ve raised several concerns about the case; for example, the murder weapon wasn’t tested for DNA evidence, and forensics experts admitted to errors in the time-of-death estimates. Reed, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury. He claims he was in a consensual relationship with Stites, a white woman. Another inmate now says Stites’ fiancé confessed to the murder.
Bishop: Rodney Reed Execution Would ‘erode public trust’
At an October 29 gathering at Greater Mount Zion Church in Austin, pastors pleaded with Gov. Abbott to postpone Rodney Reed’s execution so new evidence and witnesses can be examined. “No one should be executed when there is reasonable or even possible evidence of their innocence,” says Gaylon Clark, pastor of Greater Mount Zion. “Let the evidence take us where it leads.”
Sherwynn Patton, a former missions pastor who now works in restorative justice, encouraged people to sign a petition on Reed’s behalf and attend a November 9 rally at the governor’s mansion.
Joe Vásquez, Catholic bishop of the Austin Diocese, also is requesting a stay. “If the scheduled execution of Mr. Reed proceeds, there is great risk the state of Texas will execute a man who is innocent of this crime while allowing the guilty party to go free,” he says. “Proceeding with an execution without certainty of guilt will erode the public trust in our justice system.”
Vásquez adds, “My prayers remain with the family of Stacey Stites and all murder victims’ families. I continue to pray for healing and justice for all who have been touched by this tragedy.”
‘People are willing to take action,’ Says Reed’s Lawyer
Bryce Benjet, who is representing Rodney Reed through the Innocence Project, says it “takes a lot of time for innocence cases to get proven.” Although Gov. Abbott has stopped only one of 48 executions during almost five years in office, Benjet says that offers some hope. “Anybody will tell you that the death penalty is a very serious matter in Texas,” the attorney says, “but…where there is compelling evidence, people are willing to take action.”
Reed’s legal team is asking the governor to grant a 30-day delay and to have the state parole board consider commuting Reed’s sentence. They’re appealing for clemency, Benjet says, because “Texas is frighteningly close to executing an innocent man.”
Celebrities who’ve advocated for Reed include Kim Kardashian West, Dr. Phil McGraw, Pusha T, and Eric Andre. Many are using the hashtag #FreeRodneyReed to draw attention to his case. Kardashian West tweeted that Gov. Abbott should “do the right thing” and stop the execution.