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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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Video of Man Punching Woman’s Reclined Airplane Seat Sparks Debate

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  • When a woman on an American Airlines flight reclined her seat, the man behind her responded by repeatedly punching the back of it. 
  • After a flight attendant was called to help, she allegedly sided with the man and offered him a free cocktail. 
  • The woman, Wendi Williams, took to social media to share her side of the story and express her frustration. The video she posted of the incident has since gone viral. 
  • Some have admonished Williams for reclining her seat in such tight quarters, while others have publicly condemned the man for his behavior.

Tensions Rise in the Sky

An airplane passenger went public with her story of a man punching the back of her seat when she reclined it during a flight, and the Internet has had a lot to say on the matter. 

Wendi Williams took an American Airlines plane from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina on Jan. 31 — a flight that lasts around two hours. The man behind her couldn’t recline his own seat, as he was sitting in the last row of the plane. Williams said he asked her to put her seat up because he was eating, which she says she did. Then when he was finished she reclined it again. That’s when the trouble started — the man responded by hitting the back of William’s seat.

Williams began recording the punches and even called a flight attendant for help, but the employee allegedly brushed her off. Instead of reprimanding the man in the last row, Williams claimed the flight attendant offered him a cocktail and told Williams to delete the footage. 

“She rolled her eyes at me and said, ‘What?’” Williams tweeted. “She then told him it was tight back there and gave him rum!”

Williams has been posting about the incident to her Twitter page over the last week, calling the man’s actions an “assault.” She said that prior to the start of her video, in behavior not caught on camera, the man’s aggression was worse.

American Airlines responded to Williams directly on Twitter, asking her to direct message them with her contact information. Williams replied that she had reached out to them multiple times. Several hours later, she reported on Twitter that she had talked to an American Air representative but felt as if an adequate apology wasn’t given for their flight attendant’s actions. Williams threatened to “press charges” in the wake of her dissatisfaction.

In a statement, American Airlines said it was looking into what happened.

“The safety and comfort of our customers and team members is our top priority,” the airline said.  

Williams also said that the man’s punches have caused her physical pain, and revealed that she has pre-existing back issues. She wrote that since the plane ordeal, she has “lost time at work, had to visit a doctor, got x-rays, and have [had] horrible headaches for a week.”

Online Reactions

The debacle caught widespread attention and the video of part of the incident went viral, bringing in many mixed reactions.

After it was revealed that Williams was sitting in coach, some thought she shouldn’t have reclined her seat with such little room.

“Wendi….it seems you started this in the first place by reclining your seat too far…” one person wrote. “Just don’t recline. And the middle seat gets both armrests. Basic etiquette.”

While some did admonish the man for punching Williams, they still thought she was in wrong as well for reclining her seat.

“I’m calling a double technical,” one Twitter user wrote. “Don’t recline. Especially into the poor sap in the last row of the plane which doesn’t recline AND is adjacent to the lav. But, also… don’t punch someone’s seat, dude.”

Others defended the woman, arguing that she has a right to recline her seat, especially because it was designed with that feature. There was also widespread criticism of the man for taking the approach that he did.

And some Twitter users even pointed to the gender dynamic, arguing the situation was extra problematic because it was a man punching the seat of a woman and a power imbalance.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (Fox News) (KRQE Media)

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Chicago High Schoolers Stage Sit-In After Teacher Allegedly Tells Student ‘Go Back to Your Country’

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  • When a Latina student at Senn High School in Chicago refused to stand during the national anthem, her teacher allegedly said, “go back to your country.”
  • Students complained to the principal but felt there wasn’t enough being done, so they staged a sit-in on Wednesday to protest the lack of action and call for the removal of the teacher.
  • Chicago Public Schools said they are investigating the teacher’s alleged comments and support students who are peacefully raising concerns.
  • The teacher was removed from the school pending the investigation.

Claims of Racism 

Chicago high school students held a sit-in on Wednesday after a teacher allegedly told a Latina student “go back to your country” when she refused to stand for the national anthem last month. 

When Senn High School held a Hispanic heritage assembly on Jan. 30, 17-year-old Yésica Salazar and several other senior students remained seated for the national anthem. It was an act of silent protest against police brutality, U.S. immigration policies, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

According to the students, two teachers approached them and asked one if she was eligible for free or reduced lunch. When she responded that she was, the teacher told her that she should stand because people had died for this country. The student left the auditorium.

The teacher then turned to Salazar, asking her if her legs were broken. She told him no and started to explain her reasons for sitting.

“Before I could finish my sentence, he responds back with the famous line: ‘Go back to your country.'” Salazar told NBC News

Salazar, who is a U.S. citizen, was hurt by the remark.

“I felt very offended because my parents have fought hard to be a part of this country,” Salazar told The Chicago Sun-Times.

Sit-In Protest

The group of seniors complained about the incident to their principal, Mary Beck, but felt like the school’s response had been too slow. They held Wednesday’s sit-in, along with other students, to protest the lack of action and call for the removal of the teacher. 

In several videos that have circulated on social media, students can be heard chanting, “we want justice, we want peace.”

Another video shows Beck addressing the students.

“I notified CPS. I notified everybody within three hours of receiving the report. It is all in writing, it is all time-stamped,” she said. “I did my job. I continue to follow through based on the guidelines and policies that we have in place.

She is then interrupted as students start yelling, “So why is he still here?” referring to the teacher. Beck also receives some boos from the crowd.

This was not the only drama that unfolded during the sit-in. Chicago police reported that a 15-year-old student was arrested during the demonstration. She and another student began fighting, police said, and when a 55-year-old staff member tried to break it up, she pushed him to the ground. 

Chicago Public Schools said they have launched an investigation into the teacher’s alleged national anthem comments, and spokesperson James Gherardi said they support students who are peacefully voiced their concern. 

“CPS is committed to fostering learning environments that embrace and support all students, and the alleged actions of the teacher in question run counter to our beliefs and priorities as a school district,” Gherardi said.

According to Block Club Chicago, the teacher was removed from the school pending the investigation.

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Time) (Chicago Sun-Times

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Should Freedom of Religion Protect Humanitarians Giving Food & Water to Migrants At The Border?

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The U.S. federal government said that Humanitarians from the religious immigration reform group No More Deaths broke the law when they trespassed on a wildlife reserve to leave water for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Eventually, nearly all charges were reversed due to the religious freedom restoration act. The law says that even in circumstances where a law doesn’t mention religion, it can still violate peoples’ religious liberties, which was the case for No More Deaths. Check out this week’s video to learn more about who ruled in favor of the humanitarians and why their religious liberties were being violated according to one judge’s ruling.  

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