In 1998, Rodney Reed was convicted of raping and murdering a woman named Stacey Stites two years prior. Almost all of the evidence against him came from DNA tests, but his lawyers said Reed had been having a secret affair with Stites, which explained why DNA was found on her body. However, new evidence has recently come out that could exonerate Reed. Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, was convicted in 2008 of kidnapping and raping a different woman, and a prison mate testified that he had heard Fennell brag about murdering his fiancée because she had been in a relationship with a black man.
Reed remained on death row until last Saturday, November 16th, when the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, delayed Reed’s execution date.
Five days before that on Nov. 11, about half a dozen students from the University of Redlands met in the Hunsaker Lounge with a list of phone numbers to begin their first round of “phone banking.” Phone banking is a term used to describe calling a certain organization or business to support a cause. In this case, the calls were to the Texas government in an attempt to put pressure on the governor to stop or delay Reed’s execution. Some of the students were a part of the U of R’s Black Student Union, and some were just looking to make their voices heard.
Amanda Chiles, a member of BSU said she felt “relieved” when she learned of the delay on Reed’s execution.
In a previous interview during the phone banking event, before the news came out about Abbott’s decision, Chiles said that because Reed is a black man, she felt there was, “a lot of racial bias impacting [the decision].”
Many people agree that the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is a more conservative Republican. He has referred to the death penalty as “Texas justice,” which may be a reason why he was reluctant to take Reed off death row.
Chiles said she didn’t think that what BSU did was enough on its own to overturn Reed’s previous sentence, but she thought what did help make a difference was “how much awareness [BSU] spread about it.”
Although Chiles said she was “very happy” about the recent turn of events, one aspect was frustrating to her. On the poster outside of Hunsaker that announced when the phone banking would take place, someone had written the words: “he raped a 12 year-old.” This was likely in reference to an unsolved rape case separate from Stites’ murder, but according to prosecutors also involves Reed’s DNA. Chiles stated that the claim was not true, nor was it the crime Reed was convicted of committing.
“It’s really cool how many people came behind and supported this, but there’s always going to be people … that don’t want to believe what the facts are,” Chiles said in response to the vandalism.
No more BSU events have been planned while waiting to hear more about the Reed case, but Chiles said she is part of an email chain from The Innocence Project, and she plans to stay updated and spread information over the next few weeks.
As of now, Reed’s execution date is delayed by 120 days, but his new trial date has not been set. Although his future remains up in the air, his lawyers have said they are excited about a new opportunity to present evidence that could prove Reed’s innocence.
Photograph by Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via Associated Press.