The U.S. Supreme Court Rules 6-3 in Favor of Rodney Reed
The court ruled that Mr. Reed’s challenge to Texas' post-conviction DNA testing statute was filed on time.
04.19.23 By Innocence Staff
Today, in Reed v. Goertz, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rodney Reed timely filed his challenge to Texas’ postconviction DNA testing statute. The Court reversed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded Mr. Reed’s 42 U.S.C. §1983 action for further proceedings on the merits. Mr. Reed argues that Texas’ DNA testing regime is unconstitutional and that key crime scene evidence in his case, including the belt used to strangle the victim, should be DNA-tested. That evidence has never been tested.
Parker Rider-Longmaid of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, who argued the case on Mr. Reed’s behalf before the Court, made the following statement:
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today is a critical step toward the ultimate goal of getting DNA testing in Rodney Reed’s case. We are grateful that the Court has kept the courthouse doors open to Mr. Reed, a Black man who has spent 24 years on death row for the murder of a white woman with whom he was having an affair, a crime he has steadfastly maintained he did not commit. As Mr. Reed’s briefs explain, extensive evidence developed in postconviction proceedings both points to Mr. Reed’s innocence and implicates the victim’s fiancé.”
- “We are grateful that the Court has kept the courthouse doors open to Mr. Reed.”
“Mr. Reed seeks DNA testing of key crime scene evidence that has never been tested, including the belt handled by the perpetrator while strangling the victim. Since 1989, 568 people have been exonerated because of DNA testing; 57 percent of them were African American.”
“The respondent in this case, Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz, has refused to allow DNA testing of the crime scene evidence. He should join us in the search for the truth, rather than blocking it. If DNA evidence exists, as it does here, it should be tested. It’s that simple.”
— Parker Rider-Longmaid, one of Rodney Reed’s attorneys
— April 19, 2023
The Court’s opinion in Reed v. Goertz can be viewed here.
Rodney Reed’s Petition to the Court can be viewed here.
Rodney Reed: Overview of Pending State-Court Litigation in Support of His Innocence Claim
Actual Innocence, False Testimony and Brady Claims
(Ex Parte Rodney Reed: Successor Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus)
Before his scheduled execution on November 20, 2019, Mr. Reed’s attorneys filed a successor Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the 21st Judicial District Court in Bastrop County to vacate his conviction and death sentence. The Application detailed even more new evidence, discovered since the CCA denied his prior habeas applications, that proves Mr. Reed did not murder Ms. Stites. The Application stated that:
- Several more witnesses had come forward with powerful new credible information that exonerated Mr. Reed and inculpated Mr. Fennell in Ms. Stites’s murder, including evidence that Mr. Fennell admitted to killing his fiancé because he discovered she was sleeping with a Black man;
- The prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland when it withheld exculpatory information that Mr. Reed could have used to discredit Mr. Fennell’s trial testimony and provided a motive for Mr. Fennell to have murdered Ms. Stites;
- The newly discovered evidence demonstrated that the State relied on Mr. Fennell’s false testimony in order to convict Mr. Reed; and
- Mr. Reed had disproved every aspect of the State’s forensic case against him.
Mr. Reed’s Successor Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus can be viewed here.
On November 15, 2019, the CCA stayed Mr. Reed’s execution to allow the courts to consider his Brady, false testimony, and actual innocence claims. The Court remanded Mr. Reed’s case to the 21st Judicial District Court in Bastrop County for an evidentiary hearing, which was held in July 2021.
Despite the new, overwhelming evidence of innocence presented at the evidentiary hearing, Judge J.D. Langley adopted nearly verbatim or “rubber stamped” the State’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, including many obvious factual misrepresentations and misrepresentations of law. Judge Langley found every witness called by the State to be credible, and every witness called by Mr. Reed to be non-credible. Because the judge abandoned his duty to be an unbiased, independent fact finder, Mr. Reed’s attorneys asked the CCA to reject the trial court’s copy-and-pasted findings on January 31, 2022. The CCA’s decision is pending.
Mr. Reed’s Memorandum and Objections to Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law can be viewed here.
New Brady Claims Discovered Before Evidentiary Hearing
(Ex Parte Rodney Reed: Request for Grant of Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus)
On December 17, 2021, Mr. Reed’s attorneys filed another Request for Grant of Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the 21st Judicial District Court in Bastrop County and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which stated that prosecutors illegally hid yet more evidence for 24 years that could have exonerated Mr. Reed. A month before the July 2021 evidentiary hearing, the State revealed, for the first time, that friends and co-workers of Ms. Stites told police, before Mr. Reed’s trial, that Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites knew each other and were romantically involved.
Despite having this critical evidence in its possession, the State falsely told the jury that investigators looked high and low for evidence of a relationship and found none, and told the jury there was no evidence that Ms. Stites had ever associated with Mr. Reed. The State also illegally suppressed statements from Ms. Stites’s neighbors about loud domestic violence arguments between Ms. Stites and Mr. Fennell, while arguing to the jury that their relationship was a peaceful and happy one and he had no motive to harm or history of harming Ms. Stites.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady vs. Maryland (1963), the State had an affirmative duty to turn over all evidence that was favorable to Mr. Reed’s defense prior to his 1998 trial. Instead, the State hid the evidence pointing to Mr. Reed’s innocence for more than two decades. The State has filed no response. This application is awaiting a decision at the CCA.
Mr. Reed’s Request for Grant of Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus can be viewed here.
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