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Florida Lawmakers Expected To Revise Stand Your Ground Bill

The new bill will reportedly make it easier for defendants to use it. 

Florida lawmakers are poised to make significant revisions to the current Stand Your Ground bill this week, The New York Times reports. Under the proposed rule, it may allow more defendants to claim self-defense without having to provide evidence to support the claim. Instead, the burden would transfer to the prosecutors, who would have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the rule does not apply.

The Senate passed the revised Stand Your Ground bill Wednesday (Mar. 15) by a winning vote of 23 to 15, ultimately clearing the path for the House of Representatives to pick up the law in the forthcoming weeks, the Times confirms. If the bill were officially passed, the defendant could simply proclaim self-defense, and the prosecution would be forced to prove with various evidence and witnesses, that the violent act was not justified. Republican Senator Rob Bradley suggests the new bill will put the burden where it belongs and uphold the American standard that you are innocent until proven guilty. "If a prosecutor doesn’t have the evidence to prevail at this immunity hearing … the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial,” Bradley said. "Innocent people will not go free as a result of this bill; this bill isn’t about creating loopholes"

While State Senator Dennis Baxley insists the bill will save a number of people, it does not seem to act on behalf of the other side. The provision reportedly allows people to use deadly force, without the responsibility of removing themselves from the situation before it turns violent, according to the Miami Herald. For example, if the law were passed prior to the high-profile case regarding retired Tampa policeman Curtis Reeves, who cried "Stand Your Ground" after shooting and killing Chad Oulson at a movie theater because he was texting, Reeves wouldn't  have been responsible for proving or explaining his use of deadly force. The prosecution would have had to prove, without a reasonable doubt, why Oulson essentially didn't deserve to be shot.

Democratic Senator Gary Farmer, expressed some concern for the bill during a courthouse debate, saying that it puts prosecutors in a difficult position "of having to prove a negative." "That’s a very difficult proposition regardless of the issue. When you add to that, in order to prove that negative, a prosecutor needs witnesses," he continued. "This bill has unintended consequences of incentivizing shoot-to-kill. Dead men tell no tales."

Following the aftermath of Trayvon Martin's death in 2012, Florida -- aka the "Gunshine State" -- has been thrust at the head of the discussion on self-defense laws in recent years. It is now reportedly up to the House to finish the job in one final hearing, the Herald reports. If the house gives the green light, the state would become the first state to enforce tougher standards or expectations of the prosecutors.

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Kansas City To Remove Martin Luther King’s Name From Street Signs

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name is set to be removed from street signs around Kansas City after resident voted Tuesday (Nov. 5), to drop MLK Boulevard and restore the parkway back to its original name, The Paseo.

The measure, which passed with approximately 70 percent of the vote, was spearheaded by Save the Paseo, a grassroots movement whose mission is to “preserve the name of KC’s most historic boulevard and find a way to honor Dr. King that brings the City together.”  Stretching 10 miles north and south, The Paseo is the longest, and one of the oldest streets in KC.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced the resolution to have the street renamed, after nearly 40 years of failed attempts at honoring the late Civil Rights hero. The MLK street signs were erected this past February. “People want to make sure that we engage with enough different community stakeholders, and I think it's fair to say that did not happen," Lucas told The Kansas City Star in reaction to the vote.

Rep. Vernon P. Howard, who helped lead the MLK name change effort, believes that the issue is race-related. Howard said Save the Paseo group members are of mostly white residents who don’t fully grasp the significance of the name change. Paseo members held a silent protest at the Paseo Baptist Church last Sunday (Nov. 3).

“This is a white-led movement that is trying to dictate to black people in the black community who our heroes should be, who we honor, where we honor them and how we honor them,” Howard said. “That is the pathology of white privilege and that is the epitome of systemic structural racism.”

The street sign discrepancy began after the city changed the address of more than 1,800 residents without asking. Kansas City law requires that at least two-thirds of residents approve a street name before it can be changed, although the rule is not typically enforced, according to The Star. Diane Euston, a member of Save Paseo, said that she was “proud of Kansas City” after Tuesday's vote.

Kansas City is expected to remove more than 100 signs, including those that cut through a predominately black neighborhood in town. Although Kansas City has a park named after King, the city will go back to being one of the largest major metropolitan areas without a street named in King's honor.

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Free Rodney Reed: 5 Things To Know About The Death Row Inmate's Case

For 21 years, Rodney Reed has been on death row while fighting to prove his innocence. The now 51-year-old was convicted of murdering Stacey Stites on April 22, 1996. Reed, a black man, and Stites, a white woman, were in a consensual relationship although the latter was engaged at the time to former police officer Jimmy Fennell.

When Stites was killed, authorities discovered DNA that matched Reed's, leading the jury to find him guilty. Reed's legal counsel claims the DNA (semen) was a result of his and Stites' relationship. Also, the murder weapon, a belt, was never tested for DNA and his fingerprints were nowhere to be found.

Now, 16 days before Reed's execution by lethal injection, his legal team, activists, and celebrities are calling for a halt as counsel seeks to re-examine the evidence and present new witness testimonies to the court that might help to prove Reed's innocence.

Here are five things to know about Reed's case.

1. Rodney Reed Was Found Guilty By An All-White Jury

In 1998, Reed was found guilty by an all-white jury due to the discovery of his semen on Stites' body. His legal team stresses it was the result of a consensual relationship between the pair.

"None of them look like me but I...grew up in the military. I was a military brat...I figured that they would hear the evidence and know that I'm innocent," Reed said to ABC News. "Race played a big part. I didn't see it at first...I wasn't seeing racism like that." Stites' cousin and a co-worker supported Reed's testimony that the pair were in a consensual relationship.

According to The Statesman, the case was fast-paced and left Reed's defense counsel little to no time to present its side. Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell, was also a suspect. The news site reports he reportedly failed two polygraph tests on his location at the time of Stites' death but the jury zoned in on Reed after his DNA was found on Stites' body.

2. The Suspected Murder Weapon Hasn't Been Tested For DNA Evidence

The murder weapon, a belt, was never tested for DNA evidence and requests for its examination have been refused by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Innocence Project also notes the three forensic officials that testified revealed their testimonies had errors.

“So we're asking for DNA testing because it is a clear path where you can find additional evidence in this case," Bryce Benjet, senior attorney for the Innocence Project, said. "And the obvious thing that you would want to test is the belt, because that was the item used to strangle the victim. [It] was held in the hands of the murderer and that's very likely to have the DNA from the murderer."

The belt was reportedly used to strangle Stites before her body was found near a Bastrop County road in Texas.

3. Jimmy Fennell Served A 10-Year Prison Sentence For Kidnapping And Sexual Abuse

While on duty, former police officer Fennell reportedly kidnapped and sexually abused a woman, receiving a 10-year sentence. According to The Innocence Project's website, the organization states Fennell had a history of inflicting violence toward women.

While in prison, Fennell met an inmate named Arthur Snow Jr., who was a part of the Aryan Brotherhood gang. Fennell sought protection from Latino and Black inmates, so he attempted to befriend Snow according to a sworn three-page affidavit. Within the passage, Snow claims Fennell confessed to the murder and bragged about Reed's predicament.

"He was talking about his fiancée with a lot of hatred and anger," Snow stated. Race also came into the conversation when Snow claims Fennell believed Stites was "sleeping around with a black man." Snow is Reed's legal team's fourth witness in an attempt to halt his execution.

Fennell's lawyer, Robert Phillips, said his client denies any involvement in Stites' murder. According to The Statesman, other witnesses have claimed Fennell's questionable rhetoric, including a former Lee County sheriff's deputy who said during Stites' funeral, Fennell said "something along the lines of, 'You got what you deserved.'"

4. Texas Authorities Sought To Execute Reed In 2015

According to The Guardian, Reed was slated to be executed on March 5, 2015, but an appeal filed by his legal team granted a stay of execution as the counsel continued to gather its findings and examinations.

Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for Sister Helen Prejean (an advocate for the death penalty's abolishment), said to The Guardian that, “Racial discrimination infects the death penalty system as a whole and we see it in this case. It’s disturbing to see these kind of biases and prejudices that can ultimately cost someone their life.”

A lawsuit was also filed in 2019 on Reed's behalf that calls into question Fennell's recollection used in the case. “Prominent forensic pathologists have reached the un-rebutted conclusion that Fennell’s testimony that Ms. Stites was abducted and murdered while on her way to work around 3.30 a.m. is medically and scientifically impossible."

5. A Petition Calls For At Least 120 Days To Analyze New Evidence

Although the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Reed's stay of execution request, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to place attention to his plea. To recall an earlier claim, Fennell's differing recollections of his whereabouts at the time of Stites' death have also come into question.

According to Bastrop Sheriff's Officer Curtis Davis, Fennell first said he was out drinking. Then he claimed he was at the apartment he and Stites shared. Investigators noted that his last claim was actually the same time Stites was murdered.

The petition aims to place a stay on Reed's execution and garner the attention of Texas' Gov. Greg Abbott. A social media campaign, #FreeRodneyReed, began to pick up steam over the weekend, receiving support from Meek Mill, Rihanna, Questlove, T.I., and more. Reed's hope is to be granted a new trial.

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Cyntoia Brown Barred From Being Around Stepson Due To Criminal Conviction

Cyntoia Brown must stay away from her 11-year-old stepson after a judge recently granted a restraining order filed by the boy’s mother. Stacy Kirkland shares a son with Jamie Long, the former Pretty Ricky member and Christian rapper whom Brown married while she was in prison.

According to documents obtained by Bossip, Kirkland is “extremely” concerned about the safety of her son with Long, and does not believe he “will take proper measures to protect” the child from “danger.” Kirkland lives in Texas with their son, while Long moved to Tennessee where he lives with Brown.

The judge approved Kirkland’s request after Long failed to respond. Long is not allowed to take the boy outside of the state or discuss the case in front of him.

In the documents, Kirkland reportedly stated that while she would love for Long to spend more time with their son but “in light Jaime’s recent decision to enter into a romantic, committed relationship with a woman convicted of first-degree murder, I am extremely fearful.” She adds that Long did not inform her that he was getting married as part of their custody agreement.

Brown, a former teenage child sex trafficking victim who served 15 years in prison for murder, was released in August. In addition to getting married, Brown earned two college degrees while behind bars. During an interview with The Breakfast Club earlier in the month, the 31-year-old Tennessee native discussed how she met Long.

“He wrote me while I was prison,” she recalled. “I wasn’t writing people back but there was something about his letter — he burned the edges of it. I was like 'this is really neat,' so I wrote him back and I remember just feeling amazed by this man. His goodness really came through.”

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