News 12.21.21

With Another Birthday on Death Row, Rodney Reed Hangs on to Hope

“I appreciate everyone, and I want everybody to stay safe,” Mr. Reed said.

By Daniele Selby

Rodney Reed with his brother Rodrick, nephew Rodrick Jr., and mother Sandra Reed at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, West Livingston, Texas in 2019. (Image: Courtesy of the Reed Justice Initiative)

Rodney Reed has been on death row in Texas since 1998 for a crime he’s always said he didn’t commit. This year, he’ll be spending his birthday and holiday season in prison for the 24th year in a row. Though Mr. Reed will be apart from his family yet again, his thoughts are with the hundreds of thousands of people who have come to support his case in recent years.

“I appreciate everyone, and I want everybody to stay safe,” said Mr. Reed, when asked what message he wants to share with his supporters. Mr. Reed was convicted of the 1996 murder of a white woman named Stacey Stites, with whom he had a consensual relationship, in Bastrop, Texas. He has always maintained his innocence.

Send Mr. Reed a birthday message

Growing up, Mr. Reed would spend his birthday and Christmas (just three days apart) with his five brothers, sharing all their toys and gifts with one another. He has fond memories of going from one family member’s house to the next and tasting home-cooked dishes — his favorites were his father’s giblet gravy and his aunt’s pecan pie.

“As long as we were all together, the holidays were special,” said Mr. Reed. “It was always just special to be together with family and friends, just breaking bread together and enjoying each other’s time. Doing that even on any given day of the week — it didn’t have to be a holiday — was special.”

Mr. Reed said the hardest part of spending the holidays wrongly imprisoned has been missing out on seeing his children grow up and creating memories with them like the ones he has from his own childhood.

“As long as we were all together, the holidays were special.”

“I know that them growing up without me in their lives has been rough on them, but when I see the strength that they have in life, it’s all good,” he said.

Despite missing out on another series of celebrations with his family, Mr. Reed has hope.

“When I see [the strength] in their eyes and the smiles on [my children’s] faces — I know it’s good. It kind of boosts me up,” he said.

Just ahead of his birthday, on Dec. 17, Mr. Reed’s legal team filed a request for grant of application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, which states that the prosecution illegally hid favorable evidence at his 1998 trial and committed a Brady violation — a breach of the constitutional requirement that the prosecution turn over favorable evidence to the defense.

The application states that the prosecution hid evidence of Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites’ consensual relationship before her death. At the time of Mr. Reed’s trial, prosecutors claimed that “not one” person could confirm their relationship; however, evidence that the State withheld for more than two decades shows that at least three of Ms. Stites’ co-workers gave statements to law enforcement and the prosecution that Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites knew each other and were, in Ms. Stites’ own words, “good friends,” before his trial. Additionally, prosecutors hid reports from Ms. Stites’ neighbor about violent domestic arguments between Ms. Stites and her fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a police officer who was the prime suspect in her murder for nearly a year.

Mr. Reed’s application is still pending, and his fate remains uncertain, but he said he continues to draw strength from the memories of his grandfather, who was a World War II veteran, and his grandmother, whom he described as “the backbone of the family” and his best friend throughout his childhood.

“Send my love to everyone at the Innocence Project, all my friends, family, and supporters, and wish them a Merry Christmas,” added Mr. Reed.

As he continues his fight for justice, send him a birthday wish or holiday message and let him know he’s not alone.

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