DALLAS — “Free Rodney Reed!” chanted hundreds of people at the Texas Capitol in Austin Nov. 9, protesting his scheduled execution. The rally followed an hourslong demonstration outside the Texas governor’s mansion. Reed, who has been on death row for more than 20 years, is set to be killed by lethal injection Nov. 20.
“The amount of people who have come out is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Reed’s brother, Rodrick, at the rally, asking for Gov. Greg Abbott to intervene. “It is a cruel and inhumane punishment to make our family to wait until the last day. We aren’t asking you to do nothing special. No favors. Just do the right thing.”
Reed, who is African American, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 for the rape and murder two years earlier of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, a cashier in Bastrop. Stites was Caucasian. Reed, now 51, has maintained his innocence since his arrest.
Reed was in a consensual relationship with Stites, but she was living with her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell Jr., a cop in nearby Georgetown who was the initial suspect. Reed was arrested and convicted after his DNA was found in her body. Reed said the two had sex, but there was no physical evidence linking him to the killing. For years, the Reed family has demanded DNA testing on the belt used to strangle Stites, to no avail.
Fennell is in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting another woman. After Reed’s conviction, witnesses came forth to say Fennell threatened to kill Stites and that he has confessed. Other prisoners say Fennell bragged that he “murdered his wife for sleeping with a Black man.” Witnesses who attended Stites’ funeral say Fennell told them, “She got what she deserved.”
The campaign to stop the execution has growing support. More than 2.7 million people have signed an online petition. Support for Abbott to call off Reed’s execution has come from celebrities, including Beyonce, Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill, Rhianna and Oprah Winfrey. Sen. Ted Cruz, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and several other elected Texas officials, both Democrats and Republicans, have called for review of the new evidence.
Another rally in support of Reed is being organized for Nov. 14 at the governor’s mansion in Austin.