- 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.
College Board Changes AP African American Studies After Backlash From DeSantis Amid Education Culture War
As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.
College Board Rolls Out Curriculum
The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.
The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.
In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.”
Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.
Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.
According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.
Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”
It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism.
The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”
DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War
DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.
Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”
Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.”
To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.
Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too.
Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Biden Announces Plan to End COVID Emergency in May
The decision would drastically change the government’s long-standing pandemic response and shift Americans’ access to COVID-related services.
Emergency Declarations at an End
In a statement Monday, The White House announced that it would be ending the COVID national emergency and public health emergency declarations on May 11.
The move will entirely restructure the federal government’s response to the pandemic to treat it as endemic and upend policies that have been in place for the last three years. Although more than 500 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID on average each day — which is around two times the number of daily deaths during a bad flu season — life has largely returned to normal.
Most Americans are vaccinated, and even President Joe Biden himself said the pandemic was “over” back in September. The new announcement comes in part as a response to resolutions Republicans brought to the House floor last week that would end the declarations immediately.
“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House argued.
Lapses in Coverage and Care
Federal officials decided that a phase-out would make more sense because the U.S. has come to rely on several systems and benefits under the emergencies.
One of the most significant changes that will have the biggest impact on Americans in their day-to-day lives is access to COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines that have been free throughout the pandemic.
Once the emergencies end, a very complex wave of changes will take place that differs from person to person depending on their insurance — or lack thereof — and even possibly what state they live in.
Currently, people with private health insurance or Medicare coverage have been allowed eight free COVID tests a month and insurers had to cover those tests, even if they were administered out of network.
Once the emergency ends, some Americans will have to pay out of pocket, as well as for antiviral COVID treatments like Paxlovid.
Notably, it has been reported that vaccines will still be included for all those people covered by both private and public insurance. That, however, may not be the case for those without insurance — a group that is also more likely to be the most affected by rising costs for tests and treatments.
Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Washington Post that when the emergency declarations end, states that opted to provide Medicaid coverage for tests, treatments, and shots will lose the federal funds that matched costs at 100%.
“To me, that’s the biggest issue for the general public to think about,” she said. “The uninsured and underinsured have no guaranteed access to covid vaccines, tests or treatments.”
When it comes to vaccines, those costs could be significant. Moderna and Pfizer have both said they might charge as much as $130 per dose of vaccine once the federal government stops paying and the shots are transitioned to the private market. That figure is nearly quadruple what federal offices have paid for the doses.
The shift to the private market could happen fairly soon, especially because Republicans have refused Biden’s request that they put billions of dollars towards additional free COVID testing and shots to extend those efforts.
There could also be a spike in the number of uninsured or underinsured Americans because the $1.7 trillion spending bill passed last year ends a rule that banned states from kicking people off Medicaid, leaving millions at risk of losing coverage.
Other Possible Outcomes
Ending the declarations could also set up a battle around immigration because the Biden administration has said the move will bring an end to Title 42 — the Trump-era public health measure that placed restrictions on border crossings and other migrant policies.
Biden has previously tried to cut the program, but the Supreme Court kept it in place. House Republicans rejected the White House’s claim that the program would be terminated, arguing it is not tied to the public health emergency.
Beyond that, the termination of the declarations would require health providers to make numerous adjustments because many of the flexibilities they were allowed in a number of areas would be cut.
As a result, the administration says a phase-out of those policies over the next few months is necessary, arguing that hospitals and nursing homes “will be plunged into chaos” if they are cut immediately. House Republicans, however, are insistent on moving forward their legislation that would do just that, though the Democratic-controlled Senate could block their proposals.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates
The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.
Same War, New Battlefield
Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.
Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.
Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.
Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources.
Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.
According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.
Xbox Under Fire
To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture.
While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.
“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.
“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,” Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.
Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”
The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.” That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want
Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.
The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.
“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.