Can Chicago support Rodney Reed?


Ricardo Brazziell / Associated Press

In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas.

Innocent until proven guilty is a well-known phrase in the American legal system. This phrase spearheaded the argument to push back Rodney Reed’s execution date, originally set for Nov. 20. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on Friday, Nov. 5 to stop Reed’s execution on Friday, Nov. 15. According to the New York Times, the court that he was originally tried in has been ordered to consider the new evidence in the case.

Reed, 51, was convicted in the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. According to the Texas Tribune, he has served time in prison for 21 years. Stites was raped according to prosecutors, murdered by strangulation and her partially clothed body left on the side of a road in Bastrop County, Texas.

According to CNN, Stites left for an early morning shift at a local grocery store. Her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, claimed that he was still asleep. Her pickup truck was found abandoned in a high school parking lot.

Reed is a black man and Stites was a white woman, preparing to marry a man who was a police officer at the time. There was an all-white jury involved.

Students Against Incarceration (SAI) is an organization at DePaul aiming to educate students about the issues in the U.S. criminal justice system while serving and fighting for the incarcerated population. There are students who work with various organizations that work to reform the prison industrial complex.

Katrina Phidd, a junior studying sociology at DePaul, is the co-president of SAI. She expresses the importance of support from as many people as possible, specifically residents of Texas.

“It’s really easy to execute someone when no one [is] watching,” Phidd said. “But when the whole world is watching, that’s a little more pressure to do the right thing.”

Despite Reed being linked to the DNA found in Stites body, many believe there is evidence pointing to his innocence. The weapon used in Stites’ murder was never tested for DNA evidence with forensic experts admitting to their error, and there are two testimonies of Fennell admitting that he killed her.

Audrey Kerba, a sophomore studying communication and media at DePaul is also a member of SAI. She says that students can also support by donating to Reed’s family, who have “spent decades advocating for his innocence.”

This case has been gaining attention around the country. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and others have utilized their social media platforms to speak out in support of Reed. Organizers have traveled to Texas in order to support Reed and his family.

One of those people is Mark Clements, an organizer from the Chicago Torture Justice Center. He was present at the vigil held in front of Gov. Abbott’s mansion in Austin on Thursday night. Clements has been supporting Reed’s case for over 10 years.

“I got involved to bring attention to this case,” Clements said. “I wanted to be one of many that would stand up for him.”

SAI and other people around the country believe that this case is racially charged. And it’s important to note that  Reed and Stites were involved in a consensual relationship — according to the Washington Post, witnesses have voiced their knowledge on Reed and Stites’ relationship.

Susan Dumbleton was formerly a professor at DePaul in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She talks about how students can help with delaying Reed’s execution.

“They should write to or call the [Texas] governor’s office,” Dumbleton said. “Saying that they are not from the state but they know that the people of Texas do not want to execute an innocent person any more than the citizens of Illinois would, or something like that.”