Celebrities Urge Texas Governor To Halt Execution Of Rodney Reed

Celebrities Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and others are calling for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to stop the upcoming execution of Rodney Reed, a Black man who claims he is innocent and whose lawyers say mounting evidence would exonerate. 

Reed, 51, who is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20, was convicted of the 1996 sexual assault and murder of then-19-year-old Stacey Stites, who was white. 

The Innocence Project, which is part of Reed’s legal team, last week filed for a commutation of Reed’s sentence, as well as for a new hearing in the case “in light of the grave doubt concerning his guilt.” 

The lawyers cite evidence they say proves Reed’s innocence and that points to the alleged guilt of Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, who was a police officer at the time and a person of interest in her murder. (Fennell’s lawyer told CBS News that his client was not involved in Stites’ murder and had been “devastated” by her death.) 

Fennell spent 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman he had in custody in 2007. 

In the commutation request, Reed’s lawyers said a former prisoner and leader of the Aryan Brotherhood crime syndicate who was imprisoned with Fennell, who is white, said last week that Fennell had said his fiancée “had been sleeping around with a Black man” and that he had to kill his “nigger loving fiancée.”

The key evidence against Reed in his trial was the DNA in his semen collected from Stites’ body. Reed said he was in a consensual sexual relationship with her at the time. 

Reed’s lawyers have requested a DNA test of the murder weapon, which the state hasn’t done. They also point to expert witnesses who have since recanted their testimony.

Reed asks ”only for commutation because he wants to be vindicated in court, so that a jury of his peers can hear all of the evidence in his case,” Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, told HuffPost.

Reed was convicted by an all-white jury

“Anyone who looks at the evidence fairly will understand that the wrong man was sent to death row for this murder,” Benjet said. 

Actors Janelle Monae and Yara Shahidi are among others who have tweeted in support of Reed. An online petition asking Abbott to stop Reed’s execution has garnered over 1 million signatures

Kardashian, who is studying to become a lawyer, has been advocating for criminal justice reform in recent years. Last year, President Donald Trump granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson — a 63-year-old then-serving a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense ― after Kardashian visited Trump at the White House to discuss the case.  

The Innocence Project said it has not gotten a response from Abbott or the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on the commutation request. HuffPost reached out to Abbott’s team, but did not immediately receive a response. 

Reed ”is certainly encouraged by the widespread and diverse group of people voicing their support,” Benjet said of the tweets by celebrities rallying to the prisoner’s cause. The lawyer urged Texas residents in particular to contact the governor and parole board to express support for Reed.

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