Bastrop County, TEXAS (KXAN) — Family members of death-row inmate Rodney Reed are gearing up for an early week. Monday through Friday, they plan to protest in front of Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz’s office to express their opposition to a motion to set Reed’s execution date which Goertz signed off on.
On July 15, the state filed the motion, calling for Reed’s execution date to be set on November 20, 2019.
Reed’s attorney filed a motion in response that day, asking a Bastrop District Court judge to dismiss or strike the state’s request. The attorney also argued that the motion to set an execution date was an act of retaliation against Reed and his family because the motion was filed shortly after Reed’s family protested in Washington, D.C. An article on that protest in The Bastrop Advertiser noted Reed intended to pursue federal review of the state’s decisions in the case.
Goertz responded to KXAN’s request for comment on Monday, noting that he has not ever and will not currently grant interviews regarding Rodney Reed’s case as it is an ongoing criminal prosecution.
But he did release a statement in response to the claims the motion to set an execution date for Reed was retaliatory: “The State has petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals to deny the most recent Reed motions because they are improper and without merit.”
While these legal actions play out, Reed’s family says they will be protesting in downtown Bastrop from 7:45 a.m. through noon for five days this week.
“We hope what goes through their minds is a powerful message about family, about faith, about justice, you know what I mean?” said Rodney’s brother, Rodrick Reed, of the impression he hopes to leave with people who see his family protesting. “And a mindset of change, how we’ve got to change this system, how it affects families and communities.”
KXAN met with Rodrick at the neighborhood in Bastrop where Rodrick and Rodney grew up — the neighborhood where most of their family lives.
“We need to let him know that we are not going to be quiet we are not going to stand for this, we are not going to sit still, because his life means everything to us,” Rodrick said of Rodney. “Because when they take a part of him, they are taking a part of me, it affects the whole family, and we are tired, and we are hurt and we are upset about this whole thing from the beginning.”
Reed was scheduled to be put to death in March 2015, but the execution was paused just days beforehand. He was first sentenced to death in May of 1998.
Reed was convicted of killing Stacey Stites and dumping her body on a rural Bastrop County road in 1996. DNA from the Stites case matched Reed, but Reed said he had a consensual and secretive relationship with her.
Stites was engaged to Jimmy Fennell, a Georgetown police officer, at the time of her murder. Fennell was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for an unrelated crime. He was accused of raping a woman in his custody, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Reed’s attorney believes new evidence shows Fennell was the actual killer.
Reed had applied for relief from his 1997 murder conviction on the grounds that scientific expert opinions used at trial were false and have since changed. But on June 26, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed that application for relief. The appeals court also denied Reed relief he sought in 2017 that included new testimony and evidence the defense presented.
Reed has unsuccessfully pushed to get pieces of evidence tested for DNA, including the belt used to strangle Stites.
Bryce Benjet, the attorney leading Rodney’s defense team, explained that ever since the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Rodney’s application for relief in June, his team had been preparing to present an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Benjet said Rodney’s defense team is still planning to do so and is working to pull together all their litigation history to present in federal court.
Benjet believes that the motion to set Rodney’s execution date was in retaliation to the family’s exercise of their First Amendment rights and should be dismissed.
“I was shocked how they could retaliate like that because of what we were trying to do to save my brother’s life,” Rodrick said.
“It doesn’t make sense for them to ask for such a motion when they know there are still avenues that [we’re] trying to go down to prove my brother’s innocence,” he added.
Rodrick has now taken time off of his job to focus on fighting for his brother’s life full-time. He has been making T-shirts and said he will travel around the country to share his brother’s story, if he has to.
Rodney’s family maintains that he was wrongfully convicted.
“If we continue to allow this type of stuff to go on, it will continue to happen, this could be my son next, this could be anyone,” Rodrick said. “And no one deserves to be locked up for something they didn’t do.”