Death penalty opponents and human rights defenders applauded on Friday night after the highest court in Texas issued an indefinite stay of execution for Rodney Reed.
According to the Austin Statesman:
The order by the Court of Criminal Appeals came hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott delay, for 120 days, Wednesday's scheduled execution.
The board declined to support Reed's request to commute his death sentence to a life term in prison.
Abbott could have accepted or rejected the seven-member board’s recommendation, but Friday's stay of execution took the matter out of his hands.
Citing Reed's innocence in the 1996 murder for which he was convicted, human rights groups have been demanding Reed be taken off death row for years. That call has become increasingly urgent as his scheduled execution date approach.
Thank you to all who called, tweeted, and spoke out against the execution of an innocent person. Today, we rejoice. Tomorrow, we keep working to prove #RodneyReed's innocence. Stay involved. https://t.co/X0UIaZZzZ3— Innocence Project (@innocence) November 16, 2019
"We are extremely relieved and thankful that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has issued a stay of execution for our client Rodney Reed," said the Innonence Project, which has been working on Reed's appeal, in a statement. "The CCA has ordered the claims of Brady violations, false testimony and actual innocence in Mr. Reed's case back to the trial court. This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed's innocence."
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has blocked the execution of #RodneyReed. The court recognized Reed's motion to stay the execution and has sent the case back to a lower court to consider his claims that the state presented false testimony and that he is innocent. pic.twitter.com/VTTLIRb5Yj— NAACP (@NAACP) November 16, 2019
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As the Statesman reports:
Reed's lawyers say analyses from forensic experts determined that Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old whose body was discovered along a rural road in Bastrop County in 1996, had been killed hours before she could have encountered Reed — but at a time when she was with fiancé Jimmy Fennell in the apartment they shared in Giddings. Other witnesses have submitted sworn statements supporting Reed's claim that he and Stites were having an affair, explaining the presence of his semen in her body, and portraying Fennell as a racist who expressed anger that Stites was sleeping with a black man and, according to one affidavit, admitted to killing her. Reed is African American. Fennell, like Stites, is white.
Friday's order from the Court of Criminal Appeals will allow Reed to present that evidence and advance arguments that Reed was convicted based on false testimony from prosecution medical experts who told jurors that the condition of Reed’s sperm, with tails intact, meant she was raped and strangled minutes apart, and that only Reed could have committed the murder.
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was among those who applauded the decision, but added that the courts should go even further and capital punishment be abolished entirely.
This decision by the parole board is critically important. Rodney Reed's execution should not just be delayed, but canceled.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 15, 2019
Real criminal justice reform must include joining every other major democracy in eliminating the death penalty. https://t.co/h45hxtuqBy
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) expressed a similar sentiment:
The #trauma, the pain, & the injustice that #RodneyReed has experienced at the hands of the criminal legal system is inhumane. While this is a victory for Rodney & his family, #justice delayed is justice denied.— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) November 15, 2019
The death penalty has no place is a just society. #FreeRodney https://t.co/tE0JQD5m6f
"An indefinite stay of execution for Rodney Reed is just and warranted," declared the ACLU in a tweet following the news. "When the state kills someone who may be innocent in the name of justice, the true perversion of the death penalty becomes clear."