'Extremely relieved'...attorneys for Rodney Reed exhale after court grants stay of execution
HOUSTON (AP) — The top criminal appeals court in the state of Texas, in the United States (US), yesterday halted the execution of Rodney Reed, which was scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
Reed’s attorneys and supporters, including American celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce, say new evidence raises questions about his conviction for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.
The stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended delaying the lethal injection the 51-year-old Reed was scheduled to receive.
Prosecutors say he raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community located about 30 miles southeast of the Texas capital, Austin.
Lawmakers from both parties, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz, have also asked that officials take a closer look at the evidence in the case.
The appeal court, in its four-page order, said Reed’s case should be returned to the trial court in Bastrop County so it could examine his claims that he is innocent and that prosecutors suppressed evidence and presented false testimony.
Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, said defence attorneys were “extremely relieved and thankful.”
“This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr Reed’s innocence,” Benjet said in a statement.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Friday on whether it would appeal the ruling.
Before the ruling was handed down, the parole board had unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Reed.
The board rejected Reed’s request to commute his sentence to life in prison.
The parole board’s decision was to go to Governor Greg Abbott, who has not said whether he would accept or reject it or do nothing.
The court order likely makes Abbott’s decision moot.
Since Texas resumed executions in 1982, only three death row inmates have had their sentences commuted to life in prison by a governor within days of their scheduled executions.
Reed has other appeals pending, including with the US Supreme Court.
He has long maintained he did not kill Stites and that her fiancé, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer.
Reed, who is black, says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with him.
Fennell’s attorney has said his client did not kill Stites.