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November 18, 2019, 3:18 pm CST
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The highest criminal court in Texas has halted the execution of inmate Rodney Reed to allow a trial court to consider his claim of actual innocence along with other allegations.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Friday in a case that attracted the attention of ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, who days earlier had urged the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend executive clemency. Execution had been scheduled for Nov. 20.
Acting the same day as the appeals court, the pardons and paroles board recommended that the governor give Reed a 120-day reprieve.
Reed has garnered support from public figures that include Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said a trial court should examine three claims by Reed: that he is actually innocent, that the state suppressed exculpatory evidence, and that the state presented false testimony.
Reed was convicted for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a woman who was engaged to be married to a former police officer. Reed says he was having an affair with Stites, and that is why semen with his DNA was found in her body.
Prosecutors had argued that Reed killed Stites on the morning that she drove to work in the officer’s truck. Prosecutors said Reed raped and strangled Stites, then left her body in the brush along an unpaved roadside.
Reed’s lawyers are pointing to the fiance as a possible suspect. He pleaded guilty in 2008 for kidnapping and improper sexual conduct with a woman while on duty, according to story at the time by the Austin Chronicle.
According to an affidavit from a prisoner who served time with the fiance, he said he killed Stites because of his anger over her affair with a black man. Reed is black. Others have also come forward to say Reed and Stites were having an affair.
The fiance was a key witness for the prosecution, according to a separate petition for certiorari that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in Reed’s case. Reed says the officer made a prior inconsistent statement to a sheriff’s officer about his activities on the night of the murder, but that information was never presented to jurors.
One of the issues raised in the cert petition is whether execution of a person who is actually innocent violates the U.S. Constitution.
Martinez pointed out that the forensic expert who testified about the time of death in Reed’s trial has since recanted, and new experts claim that Stites was actually killed during the period of time when she was with her fiance. In addition, experts say scientific testimony on the amount of time that semen can remain in a body was false, Martinez said.
Reed is represented by the Innocence Project and pro bono attorneys at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
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