by Stephanie Hauer
All human beings deserve justice, and our country has enshrined in its legislation the right for a fair trial. Even though this goal is written out on paper, it isn’t always practiced perfectly. The trial of Rodney Reed, a Texas man accused of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites 23 years ago, was seriously flawed, which means that it could never be considered fair.
Stites was found on the side of a rural road. Originally, the police suspected her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, of the murder. He is a former police officer who had previously been incarcerated for the kidnapping and improper sexual activity of a woman he held in police custody. Upon further examination of Stite’s body, it became clear that there was a small amount of Rodney Reed’s sperm present. This then caused the police to suspect Reed. However, there was also hair found on her body that did not match Reed’s.
The presence of Reed’s sperm led the police to arrest him. Reed maintained his innocence the entire time, explaining that he and Stites had been having an affair, and that the sperm was from their consensual relationship. He repeatedly stated that he did not kill Stites.
During the trial, the defense repeatedly requested that the murder weapon, a belt, be tested for DNA evidence. These requests were denied. Reed was tried by an all white jury and found guilty. Because Reed had been tried for sexual assault in the past, the prosecutors argued that Reed was dangerous and deserved the death penalty, even though he had been acquitted of the sexual assault charge. The judge handed down a death sentence. The execution was scheduled for November 20, 2019.
Texas carries out the most death sentences of any state in America, having killed 566 people since the death penalty was re-instated in this country in 1982. This is an atrocious perversion of justice and should never be permitted. Each and every human being, regardless of their actions, has unique and innate dignity. Our crimes do not deprive us of our human nature, and killing people is never justified. The death penalty is always wrong, but it is especially heinous when it is carried out against people who are innocent of the crimes of which they’re accused.
Reed’s legal team never stopped advocating for him. In the years after his trial, they continued asking for full DNA testing and proper consideration of all the evidence. The Innocence Project, and several celebrities, also spoke up on Reed’s behalf. Nearly 3,000,000 people signed a petition asking for the evidence to be presented fairly and for the death penalty to end.
On November 15, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles suggested a 120 day reprieve on Reed’s execution. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas halted the execution and required the original court to examine the new evidence, which was almost entirely unprecedented.
This demonstrates that our voices have power. It is due to the constant efforts of Reed and his numerous advocates that he did not die on that Wednesday afternoon. When we organize ourselves to protest against injustice, we can make a life-saving difference. That is why we, as pro-life people, continually push forward to create a culture of life where the dignity of human persons is respected and that life is consistently protected.
But Reed’s journey is not over yet. His trial will reopen to consider new evidence. Some of the most important pieces are the following: that the original window of the time of death presented by the forensics experts was inaccurate, that additional witnesses have stepped forward to corroborate Reed and Stite’s affair, and that a fellow inmate of Fennell heard him confess to the murder when speaking with the Aryan Brotherhood while in prison.
We must urge the Texas justice system to carry out a thorough and fair trial for Rodney Reed. We must also encourage Texas, and all other states, to abandon the death penalty in favor of more pro-life forms of justice. If you would like to learn more about how you can help advocate for Reed, you can visit https://www.freerodneyreed.com/ and https://www.innocenceproject.org/join-rodney-reed/.