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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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Tashonna Ward: 25-Year-Old Woman Dies After Waiting Hours In ER

The family of the 25-year-old Wisconsin woman are seeking answers following her tragic death earlier in the month. Tashonna Ward, a daycare worker whose newborn daughter died last year, passed away after waiting nearly three hours in the emergency room at Wisconsin's Froedtert Hospital where she sought treatment for chest pains and shortness of breath.

Ward checked into the ER at 4:58 p.m on Jan. 2, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. During the wait, hospital staff checked Ward’s heartbeat and she underwent an x-ray, the latter of which showed that she had an enlarged heart.

She was sent back to the waiting room.

"I been here since 4:30 something for shortness of breath, and chest pains for them to just say it’s a two to SIX hour wait to see a [doctor]. Like that is really f***ing ridiculous,” Ward reportedly wrote on Facebook according to NBC News.

Ward left Froedtert to go to another hospital at around 7:30 p.m., but never made it. She collapsed soon after and was rushed back to Froedtert where she was pronounced dead.

“How can you triage someone with shortness of breath and chest pain, and stick them in the lobby?" Ward’s cousin, Andrea Ward, said according to the Journal Sentinel. Andrea launched a Go Fund Me  account to raise funds for her cousin’s funeral.

A rep for Froedtert expressed condolences over Ward's death . “The family is in our thoughts and has our deepest sympathy,” a rep for the hospital said in a statement. “We cannot comment further at this time.”

Ward had previously been told that she developed an enlarged heart during her pregnancy. Her baby died last March after the baby’s umbilical chord wrapped around the its neck.

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among men women in the U.S., the risks are even higher for black women. According to 2017 statistics, nearly half of black women over the age of 20 battle some type of heart disease.

Black women are also at higher risk of dying from pregnancy complications. While there are several variables at play (like a lack of access to proper health care), the larger issue is that black women are often “undervalued,” noted Dr. Ana Langer, director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in an interview with the American Heart Association.

“[Black women] are not monitored as carefully as white women are,” said Langer. “When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.”

Ward’s family are reportedly scheduled to meet with the hospital next week. The hospital has received numerous online complaints over the years, many of which involve billing issues but also treatment and long wait periods.

A Yelp review  posted last year warned patients not to believe the 23-minute wait time touted at the hospital. The woman and her ailing child left the hospital after waiting for six hours “without being evaluated other than a [five-minute] ‘triage.’”

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Atatiana Jefferson’s Mother Dies In House Where Daughter Was Killed

Yolanda Carr, the mother of Atatiana Jefferson, died in the same house where a Texas cop killed her daughter. A family lawyer announced Carr’s passing on Thursday (Jan. 9).

“We just learned Yolanda Carr, the mother of #AtatianaJefferson, passed away in her home early Thursday morning,” attorney S. Lee Merritt tweeted adding that Jefferson, 28, was killed by a Fort Worth officer “while serving as the caregiver for Ms. Carr who had recently taken ill.”

The family has been left “devastated” by the loss. Further details surrounding Carr's death were unavailable at press time.

“This is why we call police brutality genocide,” Merritt tweeted. “It is akin to a public lynching. It impacts the entire community. It is domestic terrorism under the color of state authority.”

Yolanda’s family is devastated. This is why we call police brutality genocide. It is akin to a public lynching. It impacts the entire community. It is domestic terrorism under the color of state authority. https://t.co/KyRtR7aG6X

— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) January 10, 2020

Jefferson, who would've celebrated her 29th birthday this past Thanksgiving, was killed last October by Ft. Worth Sheriff's deputy Aaron Dean. Dean shot Jefferson through the window of her home while she was playing video games with her nephew. Police were responding to a neighbor’s call about a door being open at the location when Dean opened fire on Jefferson. Dean resigned from the department after the fatal shooting. He has since been charged with murder.

A month after Jefferson was killed, her father Marquise Jefferson died of a heart attack, which his spokesperson said was a result of the death of his only child. “I can only sum it up as a broken heart,” said Bruce Carter. “He had to go through so much just to get through the services as a father, and continually doing good to make sure that who he was in their relationship was something he could honor.”

Carr, who was hospitalized after Jefferson was killed, responded to Dean's murder charge in an emotional video recorded from her hospital bed. “We’re going to miss her this Christmas, but I’m so glad that they finally indicted that man on murder because he murdered my baby in my home,” Carr said. “She wasn’t doing anything wrong. My thought was 'Thank you Jesus,' even though I know we have a long way to go at least we got the charge on him.”

 

Watch Carr's full message below.

The mother of #AtatianaJefferson has died in her home. This is her let public statement from her hospital bed after learning of Aaron Dean’s indictment on the charge of murder. pic.twitter.com/UQg00Te48v

— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) January 9, 2020

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Harvey Weinstein Charged With Four Counts Of Sexual Assault In Los Angeles

Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein was indicted Monday (Jan. 6) for raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in Los Angeles. This indictment came the same day that his sex assault trial commenced in New York City, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

TMZ also reported that Weinstein was charged with one felony count each of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force, and sexual battery by restraint.

Weinstein faces five felony charges in New York, based on claims by two women, one of whom remains anonymous. However, six women with sexual encounters with Weinstein will testify, according to the New York Times. Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin Tuesday. One of those witnesses in the case is expected to be The Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein raped her inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993, according to the New York Times.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and his defense team is expected to try and undermine the women's testimony. His attorneys have also long denied that any non-consensual sex happened.

The former film producer became tied to the MeToo movement after the New York Times and The New Yorker published reports detailing the stories women who said he had sexually assaulted or harassed them. More than 80 women all have since come forward, although many of their allegations fall outside the statute of limitations.

If convicted of all charges, Weinstein faces up to 28 years in state prison.

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