POLITICS
11/08/2019 19:46 EST

42 Texas Lawmakers Join Forces To Urge Governor to Halt Rodney Reed's Execution

A bipartisan group of Texas senators and representatives issued two separate but identical letters as support for the death row inmate's commutation grows.

At least 42 state lawmakers, including Democrats and Republicans, have formed a unified front urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to halt the execution of death row inmate Rodney Reed.

Sixteen state senators sent a letter to Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles chair David Gutiérrez on Friday, asking the officials to investigate new evidence that purportedly proves Reed’s case for innocence. 

“Killing Rodney Reed without certainty about his guilt may exacerbate that issue and erode public trust — not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself,” the letter said.

At least 26 state representatives sent an identical letter to Abbott on Tuesday.

Reed, who has been imprisoned for more than two decades, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Nov. 20.

Reed, who is Black, was convicted of sexual assault and murder in the death of 20-year-old Stacey Stites, a white woman, in Bastrop, Texas, in 1996. Reed was 29 at the time.

Investigators found DNA from Reed’s semen on Stites’ body, though Reed maintains that he was in a consensual sexual relationship with her at the time.

The Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group that focuses on wrongly convicted inmates, said they have uncovered new evidence in Reed’s case that casts “grave doubt concerning his guilt” and are fighting for his sentence to be commuted.

Reed’s case was thrust into the spotlight last month after celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé and Meek Mill, began lobbying in his defense.

One online petition for Reed had collected 2.3 million signatures as of Friday night.

The Innocence Project, which serves as Reed’s legal representation, said it had uncovered evidence that suggests Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, is responsible for her death.

Fennell was a police officer at the time of her murder and was a “prime suspect” in her case, according to the legal advocacy group. Fennell had also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman he had in his custody in 2007 and served 10 years in prison.

In Reed’s commutation request, his attorneys said that a former Aryan Brotherhood crime syndicate leader who had spent time with Fennell in prison had come forward, claiming Fennell told him that Stites was cheating on him with a black man and admitted to her murder.

Fennell allegedly told the fellow inmate that he had to kill his “nigger loving fiancée,” according to the court documents. He was released from prison in 2018.

Innocence Project attorneys have also demanded that the murder weapon, a belt owned by Stites, be DNA-tested, which didn’t happen during the investigation.

Robert Phillips, the attorney who represented Fennell in his assault case, told The Washington Post that any indication his client was Stites’ killer is “laughably untrue.”

In an interview from prison with NBC News, Reed maintained his innocence and said he regrets initially telling investigators that he didn’t know Stites. 

“It was the worst mistake I ever could have made,” he said. “I denied everything. I did not want to be incriminated, implicated or anything in relation to her death.”

Abbott’s office didn’t immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.