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Celebrities, Lawmakers Call For Halt Of Rodney Reed's Scheduled Execution In Texas


Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution next week in Texas. He was convicted of rape and murder. Celebrities and lawmakers from both parties are actually calling for a halt to the execution, as they say a new DNA test and other evidence could exonerate Reed.

Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies is following this story. He joins us now from San Antonio. And, David, let's just start with the circumstances around this conviction. What happened?

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: Well, Audie, as you said, Reed was convicted of rape and murder. And this was 1996, and the victim was 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Stites was found strangled to death and left on the side of the road in Bastrop County in central Texas.

This is a year - a year after that murder, police questioned Reed. And how that happened - that's a bit murky. But Reed initially told police that he didn't even know her. But now he admits that they did know each other, and they were having an affair. Reed says he lied to police because he was afraid of how they would see the relationship. He's a black man. Stites was a white woman. And this is Texas.

Reed's DNA from semen was found on Stites. He was arrested and convicted of capital murder. Reed maintains his innocence. And unless a court or the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, steps in, he's going to be put to death in seven days.

CORNISH: What kinds of questions are being raised about this prosecutor's case?

DAVIES: According to Reed's attorney, Bryce Benjet from the Innocence Project, there's too much about this conviction that just doesn't make sense. There is DNA evidence on the murder weapon, a leather belt, that's never been tested, and the courts have denied request to allow that. And there are problems with the prosecution's case - the sequence of events, the time of death, her drive to work and the use of her fiance's pickup truck. Those - you know, there's things that don't add up.

And there are lots of questions about the fiance. He was a police officer at the time, and he's since been convicted and served 10 years in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman in his custody.

CORNISH: We mentioned that this has become a high-profile case. Who are the celebrities involved? Could that actually make any difference?

DAVIES: Yeah. I asked Reed's attorney about that, and he said this is a case about facts and not about celebrity. But boy, it's undeniable that the names like Oprah and Dr. Phil, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna - they're giving the story so much juice that it didn't have before. The reason that we're talking about this right now is because of all that public interest in here that's gotten so intense that these stars can generate on their platforms. And then there are other death row cases here in Texas that also have significant questions about guilt, and they don't get this amount of attention.

But also, note that lawmakers in Texas from both parties - they're petitioning Texas Governor Greg Abbott to stop the execution. Now, the governor's powers - they're limited in this area. But Rodney Reed says he does not want a pardon. He wants a new trial so that he can prove that he is not the killer. Reed's supporters say that there is evidence there that will support that.

CORNISH: A week out from a scheduled execution, what are Reed's options?

DAVIES: Well, right now, seven days - Reed is set to die. But new paperwork is being filed almost every day to try and stop that. Now, there is a strict legal process. It's a controlled sequence of events. The appeals have to work their way up through the courts. They get to the Supreme Court. And if the high court doesn't act and intervene, then it goes to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. They get that, and they make a recommendation. That goes to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He can only act based upon that recommendation.

CORNISH: And very briefly, what's the public talking about in Texas around this?

DAVIES: This has drawn a lot of intense scrutiny. It's also cast a light on some of the issues that we have with the death penalty in Texas. We have had exonerations. There is questions about this appeal process and whether or not actual innocence is being considered by the court as we get towards execution date.

CORNISH: That's David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio.

Thank you for your reporting.

DAVIES: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.