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Rodney Reed Lawyers 'Relieved and Thankful' After Stay of Execution Granted by Texas Court

"Reed's execution should not just be delayed, but canceled," said Bernie Sanders. "Real criminal justice reform must include joining every other major democracy in eliminating the death penalty."

Rodney Reed with his brother Rodrick, nephew Rodrick Jr., and mother Sandra Reed at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, West Livingston, Texas in 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of the Reed Justice Initiative)

Rodney Reed with his brother Rodrick, nephew Rodrick Jr., and mother Sandra Reed at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, West Livingston, Texas in 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of the Reed Justice Initiative)

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.

"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."

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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.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) expressed a similar sentiment:

"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."

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