- Celebrities, criminal justice reform advocates, lawmakers, and internet users are asking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the execution of Rodney Reed, who is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20 for a crime he says he did not commit.
- Several people have come forward with new testimony pointing to another suspect in the murder case, throwing Reed’s conviction into doubt.
- Some believe it is unlikely that Abbott will grant a stay of execution, which he has done only once while in office, while others say the wave of social media support may work in Reed’s favor.
Rodney Reed’s Conviction
Celebrities and social media users have been spreading awareness about the case of Rodney Reed, a 51-year-old man who is scheduled to be executed later this month for a crime he says he did not commit.
Reed has been on death row for about two decades for the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. But now, a person named Arthur Snow has come forward claiming that it was the victim’s fiancé, a former police officer, who committed the crime – not Reed.
In 1996, Stites was found dead in a wooded area in Bastrop, Texas after having been assaulted, raped, and strangled. Police initially questioned her then-fiancé Jimmy Fennel after suspecting that he may have been responsible for the crime. Fennell failed two lie detector tests administered by police, but the DNA on Stites’s body did not match his.
That’s when the investigation shifted towards Rodney Reed, whose DNA was found to be a match. Reed admitted having a sexual relationship with Stites behind Fennell’s back but maintained his innocence in relation to her death.
Reed was eventually tried and sentenced to death after he was found guilty of murder. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20.
New Testimony Casts Doubts About Conviction
Reed’s case has received a new wave of attention from internet users who are pleading for his execution to be stopped.
On October 30, Reed’s lawyers and the criminal justice reform nonprofit the Innocence Project filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles following the sworn affidavit of Arthur Snow a day prior. Snow says that in 2010, Fennell confessed to the murder when the two were serving time behind bars together at a DeWitt County, Texas, prison.
According to the affidavit, Fennell was in the facility on a rape conviction after assaulting a woman while on duty in 2007. He was seeking protection from the Aryan Brotherhood and went to Snow, a brotherhood member, for help. Snow says he confessed to the crime as a way to build trust.
“Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*-loving fiancé,’” Snow wrote in the affidavit. Snow said he decided to come forward when he realized that Reed was serving time for Stites’s murder after reading an article about him.
However, Snow isn’t the only person who has pointed the finger at Fennell. Aside from Snow’s testimony, the Innocence Project lawyers say others have come forward with similar stories around Fennell and his anger towards his fiance, who he suspected was having an affair with a black man.
A former insurance sales representative said he had heard Fennell say he would kill Stites if he caught her “messing around.” Charles W. Fletcher, a former friend of the couple, said Fennell had complained that Stites was cheating on him. Jim Clampit, a former sheriff’s deputy, said that at Stites’ funeral, Fennell looked at her body and said, “You got what you deserved.”
At the time of Reed’s trial, no witnesses could corroborate his affair with Stites, which would have explained his DNA’s presence. Now, the victim’s cousin and coworker have both said the two were involved, according to the Innocence Project.
One of Stites’s co-workers, Alicia Slater, said Stites told her she “was sleeping with a black guy named Rodney and that she didn’t know what her fiancé would do if he found out.”
Stites’ cousin, Heather Stobbs, says she now feels Reed was wrongly convicted and possibly even framed. She told a Fox affiliate in Austin that she has no doubt in her mind that Fennell committed the murder.
The Innocence Project also claims that there were forensic issues with the investigation regarding the timeline of events. They also point to the fact that Reed was convicted by an all-white jury as an issue and have pushed for the murder weapon, Stites’ belt, to be tested for DNA evidence.
Reed’s lawyers say he is only asking for a commutation of his life sentence, not a pardon, “because he wishes to have his conviction overturned in court and to be vindicated at a fair trial in which a jury of his peers considers all of the evidence he now presents to this Board.”
Meanwhile, Fennell’s attorneys responded to Snow’s claims by calling him a career criminal. They also noted that after Fennell’s release from prison, he converted to Christianity and has been helping people battling drug addictions.
His attorney, Robert Phillips, said the allegations that his client is the true killer is “laughably untrue.” He said the evidence against Reed is strong and pointed to testimony from other women who said they had been victimized by him in other sexual assaults that were never tried in court.
However, Reed has repeatedly denied being involved in the other sexual assaults. His lawyers say Phillips and the state are focusing on those incidents “because there’s no evidence actually supporting Rodney’s guilt.”
Celebs and Social Media Users Call for Action
The calls for his case to be relooked at have picked up heavily over the past few weeks. A Change.org petition had nearly 300,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning, asking for a new trial and a stop of his execution.
On Saturday, nearly 100 supporters gathered outside the capitol building in Austin, Texas to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to grant Reed clemency.
Before Snow came forward last week, Kardashian-West called on people to put pressure on Abbott
“PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest,” she wrote.
TV host Dr.Phil McGraw, who has also posted frequently about the case and covered it on his show, said, “I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’s guilty or not guilty. I think the question is whether he had a full trial, with a full airing of all the evidence. I think the answer to that question, in my opinion, is not just no, but hell, no.”
Over the weekend, celebrities like Rihanna and Meek Mill tweeted a link to a petition to free Reed which currently has over 1.5 million signatures.
Similar support was shared by LL Cool J, T.I. Questlove, Eric Andre, Pusha T, Gigi Hadid, Yara Shahidi, Janelle Monáe, and others.
Then, in a letter sent to Abbott on Tuesday, 26 Texas lawmakers wrote that “the case that put Mr. Reed on death row has been called into serious question by compelling new witness statements and forensic evidence along with evidentiary gaps that could be filled with additional investigation and testing.”
Can the Governor Stop Reed’s Execution?
The urgency around Reed’s case has continued to grow, but it remains to be seen if advocates and celebs have actually had any influence on Abbott. The Texas governor has the power to stay the execution for 30 days and order the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate the possibility of commuting his sentence.
But some call the move unlikely since people are rarely granted clemency in Texas if they’ve been convicted of a felony or violent crime. According to the Texas Tribune, the governor has stopped just one execution in nearly five years in office.
Still, others say that the social media support might work in Reed’s favor, since similar calls for action lead to the release of Alice Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, and Cyntoia Brown, an alleged victim of sex trafficking who was given a life sentence killing a man when she was 16.
“Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, I think everybody agrees that at least we ought to be executing people who actually committed the crime,” said Bryce Benjet, a senior attorney at the Innocence Project who has represented Reed for 12 years. “And I think that everybody recognizes the kind of damage that an execution in a case like this would do to the integrity of our system.”
As of now, the offices of the governor and the attorney general have not issued formal statements about the case.
Pittsburgh Church Runs Out of Money During Gun Buyback
- Within the first hour of their gun buyback program on Monday, a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ran out of money.
- The church raised $5,100 to pay individuals up to $100 per firearm. An estimated 146 guns were handed in.
- The buyback took place two months after the community was rocked by a fatal double shooting that occurred right outside the church’s doors.
- The event was held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence.
A gun buyback hosted by a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Monday received such a large response from the community that they ran out of money within the first hour.
The Church of the Holy Cross ran the program in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and accomplishments were recognized in the form of a national holiday on Monday.
“In the first 45 minutes, we actually ran out of money,” Sylvia Wilson, the church’s senior warden, told CNN. “Some people were just bringing the guns in and they didn’t want the money. They just wanted to get the guns out of their homes.”
The church told CNN that $5,100 was raised by parishioners and other affiliate churches to buy back any firearms that people brought in. Individuals who participated received $50 or $100, depending on the type of gun. When the money ran out, the church posted a sign on their door.
“The Gun Buyback response has been overwhelming,” the sign read. “Thank you. We have run out of cash for this buyback. Sorry to turn so many away.”
“You can still turn in guns though,” the sign said at the bottom.
Wilson told CNN that even after the money had run out, people were coming to the church to turn in their guns. Other community members donated an additional $1,000 toward the buyback.
At least 146 guns were handed in overall, according to Rich Creehan, director of external relations for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who spoke to CNN. Wilson said that the church was only expecting about 100.
Striving for Non-Violence
The buyback program came just a few months after a double fatal shooting occurred right outside the Church of the Holy Cross.
“In early November, on this very corner where this church sits, there was a double homicide involving relatives who attended this church and participated in our summer program,” Dr. Leon Haley with the Church of the Holy Cross said at a press conference last week.
“And so having this gun buyback at this church, which sits in a community disproportionately affected by gun violence, is a statement of the moral and humanitarian values we espouse,” he added.
This incident, tied with the desire to honor Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence, is what prompted the church to hold the gun buyback.
On the same day, a very different event took place several hundred miles away. In Richmond, Virginia, thousands congregated for a rally and Lobby Day to fight for their gun rights.
“We didn’t realize that in Virginia they would be marching today,” Wilson told CNN, referencing the Richmond demonstration. “We see that as dishonoring his legacy because they’re marching on this holiday representing him. It’s the total opposite of what we’re trying to do today.”
The organizers of the Richmond gun rights demonstration emphasized that their assembly was intended to be peaceful. Although Gov. Ralph Northam preemptively declared a state of emergency in the Capitol grounds of Richmond in fear of violence, the rally took place without a hitch.
Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s Wife, Says Gynecologist Sexually Assaulted Her
- Evelyn Yang, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, went public with her sexual assault allegations against a New York gynecologist.
- Yang said Robert Hadden, who practiced through Columbia University, sexually abused her during a medical appointment when she was pregnant in 2012.
- After Yang and several other women’s allegations brought charges against Hadden, he pleaded guilty to two counts in 2016 and lost his medical license, but did not go to prison.
- Hadden and Columbia University are facing a lawsuit for abuse allegations and coverups, respectively, filed by at least two dozen women.
- Hadden has denied all allegations except the two counts he pleaded guilty to several years ago.
Evelyn Yang’s Story
Evelyn Yang, the spouse of 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, said she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who is also facing abuse allegations from more than two dozen other former patients.
In a CNN interview released Thursday, Yang publicly spoke for the first time about her alleged assault by Robert Hadden, a former medical professional with Columbia University.
Yang said she started seeing Hadden in 2012, when she was pregnant with her first child, and described the visits as routine at first. But she said eventually the gynecologist’s behavior grew more and more inappropriate.
The mother claimed the worst case of assault was when she was seven months pregnant.
“I was in the exam room and I was dressed and ready to go,” she told CNN. “And then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about ‘I think you might need a C-section’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved.”
Yang revealed that she didn’t tell anyone about what happened for awhile — not even her husband — even though she knew what the doctor did was wrong. It wasn’t until months later, after she found out that another woman had reported a sexual assault by Hadden, that she told her spouse.
Legal Battles Against Robert Hadden
After telling her husband about what happened to her in the gynecologist’s office, Yang hired a lawyer and discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney had an open case against the doctor as several other women came forward with similar stories.
In early 2016, after agreeing to a plea deal that saw him admitting to two out of nine charges against him, Hadden was convicted of sex crimes. However, the charges Yang accused him of weren’t among them. In that deal, Hadden had to surrender his medical license and register as the lowest level sex offender, but he did not have to spend any time behind bars.
Yang was disappointed by the verdict and thought the punishment was not large enough for the crime.
“They said that the punishment was the same, regardless of how many counts he plead guilty to, that the punishment would’ve been the same, so it didn’t matter,” Yang said. “And I thought, well, it matters to me.”
“The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice,” she added. “And there was no justice here.”
Now, there are at least 30 women that now accuse Hadden of sexual assault. The majority of them, Yang included, are part of a civil suit against Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden.
The lawsuit claims that the university “concealed Robert Hadden’s abuse for decades” and continued to allow his access to patients.
Hadden has denied all allegations against him, save for the two counts he pleaded guilty to prior to his 2016 conviction.
Justification for Going Public Now
Yang chose to bring her story into the public eye now because she felt empowered by the people she met as she accompanied her husband along his campaign trail.
“Meeting people and seeing the difference that we’ve been making already has moved me to share my own story about it, about sexual assault,” Yang said.
After the CNN interview came out, Andrew Yang posted support for his wife on his Twitter page.
“I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity,” he wrote. “She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.”
I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity. She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) January 17, 2020
In her interview, Evelyn also expressed wanting to use her unique position to speak up about these issues.
“My experience with the sexual assault… is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with every day,” she said. “And I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (BBC)
Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally
- The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
- Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.
- The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds.
- Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.
State of Emergency Declared
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week.
“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”
“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.”
In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.
Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured.
“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”
The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.
On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.
The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.
Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”
Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet.