Hundreds rally at Texas Governor’s Mansion in support of death row inmate Rodney Reed

Tessa Weinberg
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Austin, Texas – Hundreds rallied Saturday afternoon in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin, hoping their pleas for death row inmate Rodney Reed’s execution to be stayed would reach the ears of the man who has the power to do so: Gov. Greg Abbott.

Standing just feet from Abbott’s residence, Rodney Reed’s mother, Sandra Reed, had a message for him.

Supporters rally to stop the execution of Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed outside the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

“It is time for change. We need to scrutinize the people we vote in to serve and protect us. Because just as there are evildoers, we have good people too. I heard that Governor Abbott is a good man. Well, I say actions speak louder,” Reed said. “Show me and the world just how good of a man you are. Take into consideration all of what you know, all of what you’ve seen and the evidence. There are others that were before you that didn’t live up to their oath. Will you?

“Will you stop this wrongful and painful execution of my son? If you don’t, then you are just as guilty of murder.”

For many attendees who chanted, marched and signed petitions and letters requesting clemency, the rally was an urgent one as Reed’s execution date nears.

Reed is scheduled to be executed in less than two weeks, on Nov. 20. He was convicted for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop. His case has gained national attention, from politicians to high-profile celebrities who have requested his execution be postponed in light of new evidence. Many of Tarrant County’s state lawmakers have added their voices to the growing calls.

Reed, who is now 51 years old, has long maintained his innocence. His attorneys filed an application for clemency late last month, requesting that the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommend a commutation Reed’s death sentence to a life sentence.

Reed’s attorneys have pointed to Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell, as the killer, and noted in the application for clemency that new witnesses have come forward testifying to that fact, including an affidavit from a former inmate who said Fennell once told him he had killed his fiance.

The new evidence in the case wasn’t lost on the hundreds that gathered outside Abbott’s residence for over two hours.

Some held signs that read, “In Texas your race determines your rights”; “Execute justice, not Rodney Reed”; and “What if Reed was white and Fennell was black,” while security officers looked on from the lawn of the mansion.

FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas.

After hearing death row exonerees, civil rights advocates – like activist Shaun King and attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the family of Atatiana Jefferson – and members of Reed’s family urge Abbott to take action, chants of “Free Rodney Reed” echoed from the streets, as those gathered circled the governor’s residence while they marched.

Heather Campbell Stobbs, a cousin of the victim, Stites, said Reed deserves a retrial at the very least. She pointed to Fennell as Stites’ murderer.

“It’s not justice for Stacey to incarcerate and kill a man when there are so many questions about her death. And we owe it to her to get this right,” Stobbs said.

Rodrick Reed, Rodney Reed’s brother, said the past 23 years have felt like a nightmare from which he can’t wake up. It has forever changed him, and he said his brother’s case is bigger than itself.

“This is not just about Rodney. This is about rights. This is about justice. This is about the truth,” Rodrick Reed said.

He called on those gathered to work toward ending the death penalty in Texas.

“I know it’s not going to be an easy job, but we can raise enough noise where they’ll give us a moratorium – a temporary state of all executions,” Rodrick Reed said. “If you can’t give it back, don’t take it. And you cannot give back a life once you have took it.”