AUSTIN, TX (KXAN) – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a one-word ruling to Rodney Reed Wednesday morning:
Since Nov. 22, Reed was awaiting word from the state’s highest appellate court on whether it would rehear Reed’s motion that would’ve potentially removed the latest judge presiding over his death penalty case.
Reed’s attorneys argued in the Nov. 22 motion that the appeals court should “excise” this line from the court’s Nov. 15 order to stay Reed’s execution that also kept Judge Doug Shaver on the case:
“If Judge Shaver chooses to discontinue his assignment in this case, then the regional presiding judge, the Hon. Olen Underwood, shall appoint or otherwise determine who is assigned to this case.”TX Court of Criminal Appeals Nov. 15, 2019 order
In a new order handed down Wednesday morning, the justices refused to reconsider their ruling.
Shaver, a retired district court judge, was appointed for a one-day hearing in Reed’s death penalty case in 2014 after Reed’s lawyers filed a motion arguing the trial judge at the time had a conflict. That judge, Reva Towslee-Corbett, voluntarily stepped down from the case over concerns she held a potential conflict of interest.
Towslee-Corbett’s father, Harold Towslee, was Reed’s trial judge who presided over Reed’s 1998 conviction for murdering Stacey Stites in Bastrop. That same jury decided Reed should die for his crimes and he’s sat on Texas’s death row ever since.
Towslee-Corbett would have been required to rule on motions that could have put her in a position to make decisions on her father’s decisions in the case.
Despite Shaver’s one day appointment, he handed down orders in the case years after his 2014 appointment and still presided over the case as of Nov. 21, 2019. Shaver also signed Reed’s execution order on July 23, 2019, then sent his boss an email 17 days later questioning his own ability to rule on cases.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision for me. I believe that I am still in excess condition mentally and physical [sic]. The problem is that I simply have been lucky to get old, I have been in fear that I would or would not do something that could affect the outcome of some important legal matter,” Shaver wrote in an August 9 email to Third Judicial Administrative Region Presiding Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield.
When the appeals court stayed Reed’s execution in the Nov. 15 order, the court remanded several items back to the Bastrop County District Court for decisions. In that order, the justices acknowledged that Judge Shaver continued to be the duly appointed judge in the case until Judge Olen Underwood terminated Shaver’s appointment.
Underwood is the presiding judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region, which is where Bastrop County is located.
Underwood issued an assignment order on Nov. 22, terminating Shaver’s appointment and handed the Reed case over to J.D. Langley, a Texas district court judge who retired in 2014. Langley, like Shaver at the time, is included on a list of retired judges who can be assigned to help hear cases in counties experiencing a backlog.
Reed’s attorney believes the elected judge in Bastrop County, Judge Carson Campbell, should be the person presiding over the Reed case. “There is a constitutionally-based and straightforward presumption that the duly-elected district court judge has both the authority and obligation to resolve matters in his district court,” Reed’s attorney wrote in his Nov. 21 motion to the appeals court.
The appeals court did not agree.
The next steps in Reed’s case will happen in Bastrop County which includes a decision on whether new statements Reed’s attorney collected could impact his conviction and chance for a new trial.
There are no hearing dates set as of this report.