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Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Other Celebs Urge Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to Stop Rodney Reed’s Execution

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  • 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.”

Fennell Responds

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. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Fox News

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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