*This article contains references to sexual assault.
Clemente Javier Aguirre spent 14 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Charles Ray Finch was put behind bars at 38 when he was wrongfully convicted of gunning down gas station owner Richard Holloman.
Imprisoned at 28 and now 51, Rodney Reed is set to be executed in Texas on Nov. 20 for the 1996 murder of Stacy Stites.
Everyone being held on death row, including Reed, has a right to live. The clock is ticking, but there’s still time to save an innocent man’s life.
Reed was arrested for the rape and murder of Stites one year after her death. Despite a lack of evidence against him, Reed was convicted by an all white jury and remains on death row today.
According to the Action PAC, an advocacy group circulating a petition to stave Reed’s execution, the state of Texas ignored four testimonies from forensic pathologists concluding that Reed’s guilt is scientifically impossible, three expert witnesses’ updated testimonies recanting their previous claims as well as Reed’s multiple requests to have the murder weapon tested for DNA evidence.
The original suspect in Stites’s muder was her fiance Jimmy Fennell, a cop with a history of violence against women. Throughout Stites and Fennell’s engagement, Reed and Stites maintained a consensual sexual relationship, according to Reed and the Action PAC. Ignoring the obvious explanation as to why Reed’s DNA might be present on Stites’s body, the jury took a small amount of sperm as proof that Reed committed murder.
Fennell was convicted of rape in 2007. According to an affidavit from Fennell’s former fellow inmate Arthur Snow, Fennell confessed to Stites’s murder as an effort to join the Aryan Brotherhood.
“I had to kill my n—– loving fiance” Fennell said, according to the affidavit.
“My impression was that Jimmy felt safe, even proud, sharing this information with me because I was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood,” said Snow in his affidavit. “I realized that Rodney Reed was sitting in prison for a murder that Jimmy Fennell had confessed to me that he had committed,” said Snow later in the affidavit.
According to Reed’s attorneys, Stites’s friends described Fennell as jealous and violent in court filings. A former neighbor of the engaged couple reported that Fennell was physically abusive toward Stites, and they would get in frequent disruptive arguments.
No DNA evidence links Reed to the scene of the crime, and his requests to test the murder weapon have been denied. Even with this much uncertainty surrounding the case, Texas is rushing toward an irreversible decision.
Twenty-six Texas lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott on Nov. 5, urging him to stop Reed’s execution. Abbott has granted clemency for one person on death row to date — Thomas Whitaker, a white man who killed family members in an attempt to inherit money.
Whitaker is a murderer. Innocence clearly isn’t a deciding factor for Abbott. Still, he has yet to intervene in Reed’s case. Texas has stayed sentences before, but Reed, an innocent Black man, has received no sympathy from the state.
Clemente Javier Aguirre and Charles Ray Finch, Latino and Black men, respectively, were imprisoned for years due to a flawed criminal justice system.
Their situations aren’t uncommon. Black and Latinx residents make up about 32 percent of the U.S. population but comprise 56 percent of its prison population. If Black and Latinx folks were incarcerated at the same rate as white people, the U.S. prison population would decrease by nearly 40 percent.
Racial bias and discrimination are omnipresent in capital punishment. There can be no justice in a system that systematically disadvantages folks along race and class lines. The correctional system and courts are filled with white authorities, epitomizing the racism institutionalized in this structure.
Capital punishment is unjust and should cease to exist.
A petition calling for Abbott to stop Reed’s execution can be found on freerodneyreed.com. It needs just over 100,000 more signatures to reach the goal of 3 million. Sign the petition and call elected officials in Texas to demand Reed’s liberation.
On Nov. 17, activists across the country will hold #FreeRodneyReed rallies. One San Francisco rally will start at 10 a.m. at Embarcadero and Market Street, another will begin at 5 p.m. at 355 McAllister St. The Oakland rally starts at 12:30 p.m. at 5560 College Ave.