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

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 evidence.

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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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act To Criminalize Racist 911 Calls

A California lawmaker introduced an ordinance that could criminalize racist 911 calls. San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton presented the CAREN Act during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (July 7).

“Racist calls are unacceptable,” Walton tweeted. “That’s why I’m introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies.

Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that's why I'm introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. #CARENact #sanfrancisco

— Shamann Walton (@shamannwalton) July 7, 2020

The measure is similar to a bill proposed by a New York Senator in 2018, and another proposed by California Assembly member Rob Banta last month to help end “discriminatory 911 calls motivated by an individual’s race, religion, sex, or any other protected class by designating such reports as a hate crime.”

Making a false police report is a criminal misdemeanor offense under California law, but there is currently no legislation criminalizing discriminatory 911 calls.

In related news, a white New Yorker named Amy Cooper could face criminal charges for calling 911 on a birdwatching Black man in Central Park after he informed her that her dog needed to be leashed. Chris Cooper, who has no relation to Amy Cooper, filmed the viral video in May. However, Chris has refused to cooperate with the District Attorney efforts to bring charges against Amy because she “already paid a steep price,” and “Bringing her more misery just seems liking pilling on.”

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Kentucky AG Criticized For Celebrating Engagement While Breonna Taylor Case Stalls

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron continues to garner criticism over the investigation into Breonna Taylor’s death. The most recent round of backlash came after photos of Cameron’s engagement party surfaced online over the weekend.

Cameron, a Louisville native, was slammed for celebrating his engagement while the cops who killed Taylor remain free. Beyonce’s mother, Tina Lawson, joined the chorus of criticism.

“I was shocked to learn that the attorney general for Kentucky is a 34 year old black man. A republican. When Breonna’s Mother Tamika asked to speak with him, he had someone else call her,” Lawson wrote in part on Monday (June 28).

According to TMZ, Taylor’s family agreed with Lawson’s  reaction.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

I was shocked to learn that the attorney general for Kentucky is a 34 year old black man. A republican . When Breonna’s Mother Tamika asked to speak with him , he had someone else call her. ! 💔💔 When he ran for office there are a lot of Black people that were excited and thought oh my God maybe we have a fair chance now because it will be a black man in this position ! He will be fair and unbiased towards Black people. They voted for him. Well That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on people who are running for office . I have no problem with who he marries , that is his personal business. That is not what this post is about ! I just don’t understand his actions !!! And where are their masks ?

A post shared by Tina Knowles (@mstinalawson) on Jun 29, 2020 at 7:39pm PDT

Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot and killed inside her apartment in March. Protests continued in Kentucky this past weekend, amid continued demands for justice in the case.

Last month, Beyonce penned an open letter urging Cameron to arrest Louisville Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and officer Myles Cosgrove and former LMPD officer Brett Hankison.

On Monday, several LMPD officers walked out of a meeting with LMPD Interim Chief Robert Schroeder after he refused to discuss whether or not he agreed with the mayor’s assertion that the tree officers should be fired for killing Taylor.

Meanwhile, Cameron has asked the public for patience. “My heart is heavy concerning the fear and unrest in our city following the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor,” reads a statement posted on his Instagram account on May 29. “It weighs on me, as I know it does for many of my fellow Kentuckians who are grappling with the tragic events here and in other cities across the country.”

The post goes on to state that Cameron’s office isn’t handling the full LMPD probe, and that the investigation will take time in order to be “done correctly.” The office is awaiting the conclusion of the LMPD report, Cameron said.

The FBI opened an independent investigation into the shooting in May. “At the conclusion of this investigation, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division will determine if the officers’ actions violated federal law,” the statement continues. “Our office will determine if any state laws were violated. We will continue to work with our federal colleagues in our effort to find the truth.”

Cameron’s Instagram post has received more than 18,000 comments, many of which are lambasting him for the engagement photos and the slow pace of the investigation. “Shame on you,” read one comment while another added, “Stop protecting these officers.”

Read the full post below.

 

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Statement from Attorney General Cameron regarding the investigation into the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor:

A post shared by Daniel Cameron (@danieljaycameron) on May 29, 2020 at 12:24pm PDT

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NASA Names Washington D.C. Headquarters After Trailblazing Engineer Mary W. Jackson

NASA is naming its building headquarters in Washington D.C. after trailblazer Mary W. Jackson, the agency announced on Wednesday (June 24). Jackson was the first Black female engineer at NASA.

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” said Jackson’s daughter, Carolyn Lewis. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation.”

Jackson’s remarkable story was chronicled in the film, Hidden Figures, alongside Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden.

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.”

Multiple NASA facilities around the country are named after, “people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry,” noted Bridenstine.

Jackson was born and raised in Hampton, Va., in 1921. She went on to earn a degree in math and physical science from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1942. She worked as a math teacher, bookkeeper, and U.S Army secretary prior to being recruited by NASA in the early 1950s.

Jackson initially worked under Vaughn as a NASA mathematician in a segregated computing unit. After two years in the West Area Computing Unit, Jackson moved to a 4-foot-by-4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel where her supervisor suggested she join a training program to become a NASA engineer.

Jackson completed the course at the segregated Hampton High School and had to receive special permission to study with her white colleagues. In 1958, Jackson earned a promotion, and simultaneously made history as the first Black woman to become a NASA engineer. In 1979, she joined Langley’s Federal Women’s Program, where she worked to address the hiring and promotion of a new generation of female mathematicians, engineers and scientists. Jackson retired from Langley in 1985.

She passed away in 2005.

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