Rodney Reed family pleading for U.S. Supreme Court to take up case Friday

Investigations

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) – You’ll have to listen closely Thursday night to find death row inmate Rodney Reed’s family outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. The family doesn’t plan to make a lot of noise as they hold a vigil outside the courthouse.

Meanwhile, dozens of Reed’s supporters held a similar vigil outside the Governor’s mansion in Austin. They gathered at 7 p.m. Thursday and stayed outside chanting and calling out Gov. Abbott for about 12-hours.

The family hopes the vigil will “put a face to the case for the Supreme Court,” Roderick Reed told KXAN by phone. Roderick is Rodney Reed’s brother. The family doesn’t want the vigil to turn into a rally or a protest.

“We are here basically pleading for the court to have sympathy and hear his case,” Reed said in the call.

The family is waiting for the Supreme Court’s conference Friday morning where the justices of the nation’s highest court could decide to take up Reed’s attorneys’ latest attempt to have his execution delayed. It could mean another shot at having DNA evidence in the case re-examined.

Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for the 1996 capital murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. A judge signed Reed’s death warrant in July 2019, ordering the state to execute the death row inmate sometime after 6 p.m. on Nov. 20.

In September, Reed’s attorneys filed a 488-page writ of certiorari, which is a request for a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.

In the Supreme Court filing, Reed’s side wants the justices to consider three separate points concerning evidence gathered during Reed’s 1997 trial:

Point 1

Jimmy Fennell, Stacey Stites’ fiancé at the time, made an “inconsistent statement” to law enforcement about his “activities the night of the murder,” Reed’s lawyers wrote in the filing. Fennell invoked his right to not testify, “preventing Reed from confronting a key trial witness” about what his side deemed “exculpatory evidence.”

Reed’s legal team wants the court to consider whether that evidence should have been disclosed during Reed’s trial under what’s known as the Brady Standard. That standard determines whether “disclosure of the suppressed evidence to competent counsel would have made a different result reasonably probable,” Reed’s attorneys wrote in the Supreme Court filing.

Point 2

Prosecutors used the opinions of several different experts to testify regarding forensic evidence in the case. Reed raised “Due Process” violation claims at trial after the experts’ “employing agency had redacted or modified their opinions implicating Reed because the opinions offered at trial were scientifically invalid,” the filing shows.

Reed’s legal team wants the Supreme Court to sort out what happens after testimony in a trial is “later shown to be scientifically invalid,” the filing shows.     

Point 3

Reed’s layers issued a one sentence question under their third point: “Does the conviction or execution of a person who is actually innocent of the crime violate the United States Constitution?”

Next Steps

There is no guarantee the justices will even see Reed’s case. The Supreme Court’s web site shows a Case Distribution Schedule for Nov. 15 where justices will be handed writs and case briefs, but “this schedule is subject to change,” the site states.

Most of these writs fail.

Attorneys across the nation ask the Supreme Court to review more than 7,000 cases each year, the court’s web site shows. Of those, the court only accepts around 125 cases. It would take four of the nine Supreme Court justices to agree to take up Reed’s case before it would make it out of a conference.

The court could grant Reed a stay of execution if five of the nine justices vote to do so, according to the court.

If the justices decide to take Reed’s case, that won’t be made public until 9:30 a.m. Monday when the court publishes an order list showing the cases that were accepted by the court.  

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