Death Penalty

Is Texas death row inmate innocent? ABA president urges clemency to prevent 'irreversible act'

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ABA President Judy Perry Martinez is urging Texas not to execute a man whose guilt has been called into question by new evidence that hasn't been reviewed by the courts.

“The courtroom doors are effectively closed to Mr. Reed due to the procedural bars that prize finality of a conviction over the consideration of late-emerging evidence,” Martinez told the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday.

In her letter, Martinez said the ABA is troubled by continued plans to execute Rodney Reed—a Texas inmate who has been on death row for more than 21 years for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites—on Nov. 20 despite the new evidence.

“Each building block of the state’s theory of Mr. Reed’s guilt—including the time of Ms. Stites’ death based on DNA found in her body; the truthfulness of Ms. Stites’ fiance’s testimony; and the lack of credible proof of a consensual affair between Ms. Stites and Mr. Reed—has now been called into question,” she said.

Scientific opinion now supports the defense’s argument that Reed and Stites were having an affair and had been intimate the day before her death, Martinez explained to the board. The forensic expert who testified about the time of death has since recanted, and new experts claim that Stites was actually killed during the period of time that she was with her fiance.

Martinez contended that while the ABA does not take a position on the “appropriateness or constitutionality of the death penalty,” the organization seeks to ensure that jurisdictions put safeguards, such as clemency review, in place to protect prisoners’ constitutional rights and diminish the possibility of executing those who are innocent.

“In a case such as this, where significant evidence of innocence has not been considered because of procedural limitations, a board recommendation for a grant of executive clemency may be necessary to prevent an irreversible act,” she wrote.

Since 1976, 166 prisoners on death row have been exonerated in the United States, including 13 from Texas, she said.

“These exonerations demonstrate not only the real danger that an innocent person may be sentenced to death, but also the importance of checks along the way to identify and correct these errors,” Martinez told the board. “The clemency power—enshrined in both the U.S. and Texas constitutions—is often the final chance to catch such mistakes and prevent an injustice that cannot be undone.”

Martinez added that even though the courts have not evaluated much of the evidence supporting Reed’s innocence due to procedural limitations on post-conviction review, the board can review all of it on the merits and recommend that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott grant him clemency.

“In recognition of the important safeguard function served by the board, Texas law provides a flexible clemency power that allows you to seek the truth in a case in the way that courts often cannot, particularly in the late stages of a capital case,” she said.

See also:

ABA Journal: “This Houston lawyer is now representing a death row inmate he reported on as a TV newsman”

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