Austin, Texas, Nov 5, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops have called on Gov. Greg Abbott to delay or cancel the execution of Rodney Reed, a convicted murderer who maintains his innocence.
“The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops engages in advocacy efforts for every single Texas execution by urging the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant reprieve as a matter of mercy based on our position that the death penalty is inadmissible in modern society,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Conference for Catholic Bishops in a statement provided to CNA.
But, Allmon said, Reed’s case is different.
“In the case of Mr. Reed, we are engaging as a matter of justice rather than mercy because there is substantial evidence that he may not be guilty of this crime,” Allmon said.
“It would be a tremendous miscarriage of justice to allow the actual killer to go free while taking Mr. Reed’s life when there is untested DNA and an allegation of a confession by an alternate suspect that has not yet been investigated,” she said.
The Texas bishops will continue to pray for justice and for the family of Stacey Stites, who Reed was convicted of murdering.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murder of 20-year-old Stites in Bastrop County, Texas. After not showing up to work on the morning of April 23, 1996, Stites’ body was discovered in a wooded area that afternoon. She had been strangled by her own belt, and had unknown male DNA in and around her body. Officers believe that she had been sexually assaulted.
At the time of her murder, Stites was engaged to be married to a police officer named Jimmy Fennell. Fennell was considered to be the main suspect in her murder, but the DNA on her body did not match his and he was never charged. Years after Stites’ murder, Fennell was sentenced to 10 years in prison for charges related to sexual assault.
Reed’s supporters allege that it was Fennell, not Reed, who killed Stites. DNA from the belt has not been tested and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will not approve of new DNA testing.
A year after Stites’ murder, the DNA on her body was matched to that of Reed, who had a criminal history. Reed initially denied knowing Stites, but later changed his story and claimed they had a consensual sexual relationship and a secret affair.
Reed is due to be executed on Nov. 20.
Among those also calling for Gov. Abbott (R) to stop the execution are celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, Meek Mill, and Gigi Hadid. A petition organized by The Action PAC on “FreeRodneyReed.com” requesting that Abbott stop the execution has been signed by over 1.1 million people.
Those who think Reed is innocent cite many concerns regarding his trial and the potential of a cover-up by the town’s police department. Reed, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury. A man imprisoned with Fennell wrote in a sworn affidavit that Fennell had confessed to murdering Stites due to being angry that she had been in a relationship with a black man.
The Catholic Church is opposed to the use of capital punishment.
In a livestream conversation held on Oct. 10, the World Day Against the death penalty, Archbishops Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Wilton Gregory of Washington were joined by Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice (FL) discussed Church teaching on capital punishment and said that they believed the death penalty was outdated.
“What the Church wants us to understand is that taking a life, even the life of one who may have been guilty of a horrendous crime, is itself a continuation of violence,” said Gregory.
“It makes us violent to do violence against another human being” regardless of the circumstances, Gregory said.
Catholics, said DeWane, have a moral obligation to “say something” when life is not being respected, especially in instances that involve people who cannot speak for themselves.
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