Officer's guilty pleas could affect death row inmate's appeal
Georgetown Police Officer Jimmy Fennell's guilty pleas to kidnapping and
improper sexual activity with a woman in his custody Tuesday could play a
role in the appeal process of convicted murderer Rodney Reed.
Those close to the death row inmate's murder case said there are still
many unanswered questions.
"They need to know that I'm an innocent man sitting on death row," Reed
In Texas 33 men have served a combined 427 years in prison for crimes they
did not commit. And those are only the known cases.
"Occasionally, people are going to be convicted when they're actually
innocent," Reed said.
Attorney Bryce Benjet represents Reed, who was convicted in the
strangulation death of 19-year-old Stacy Stites.
Reed has always maintained his innocence, claiming his DNA found in
Stites' body was there because the 2 were secretly dating.
"The last time I saw Stacy alive was the night before, on the 22nd, we
were together, we had sex," Reed said in a 2003 interview.
Yet it is not Reed's DNA that is at issue. DNA found on beer cans found
near Stites' body excludes Reed but points to 2 former police officers,
who were also friends of Stites' fianc — then Giddings police officer
Despite failing 2 lie detector tests when asked if he killed his fianc,
Fennell was ruled out as a suspect, because investigators said he could
not have dumped Stites' body and returned home in the established
That scenario also assumes Fennell was alone and did not have a ride.
A report issued by the Department of Public Safety crime lab links the
beer cans to David Hall, who was then a Giddings police officer. He was
also friend, next-door neighbor and partner of officers Fennell and Ed
A further DNA report excludes 99.9 % of the entire Caucasian population.
Hall and Samela could not be excluded.
Samela has since killed himself.
"The DNA on these beer cans links law enforcement officers to the crime
scene, associates, close associates of Mr. Fennell," Benjet said.
Private investigator Duane Olney said DNA evidence was withheld by
prosecutors, and thus never heard by the jury.
"It may have been an honest mistake, it doesn't matter, we didn't get it,"
Olney said. "It is frustrating when you look at all these things that are
starting to fit into place."
One such example involves the man who oversaw the Reed investigation,
Richard Hernandez, Bastrop's former sheriff who also pleaded guilty to 6
There was also a Bastrop woman who said she wanted to testify but was
never called. She said she had seen Fennell and Stites together the
morning of the murder.
"When you have an eyewitness that sees something that is completely
inconsistent with the story that was presented for which Mr. Reed got the
death penalty, that's the kind of information a jury ought to hear,"
Meanwhile, Fennell will be locked up for his most recent crimes against a
With the Reed case still in the appeals court, prosecutors have declined
requests for interviews.
Yet state sources for KXAN Austin News said if you're going to look at the
arrest of Fennell as proof that Reed is innocent, then the same holds true
for the death row inmate's background.
Reed's criminal record includes three charges for sexual assault, one for
criminal attempt and one for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. All were
filed on the same day just prior to Reed's murder trial, and they are all
still open, meaning Reed was never convicted of the charges.
Reed's lawyers have asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a new
trial. They cited Fennell's recent charges in their motion.
The appeals court is expected to rule by late August.
(source: KXAN News)
Quintero's life sentence shocks victim's family
One juror said Juan Leonardo Quintero's life still has value.
Another said a convicted cop killer, even one in the country illegally,
Neither sentiment offered much consolation to family members of murdered
Houston police officer Rodney Johnson, who were stunned Tuesday when a
jury spared Quintero and sent him to prison for life with no chance of
Asked by state District Judge Joan Campbell if he had anything to say
before he was sentenced, the 34-year-old Quintero replied, "I'm sorry."
Johnson arrested the landscaper from Mexico during a Sept. 21, 2006,
traffic stop. The 12-year police veteran didn't notice Quintero was hiding
a gun, which, while handcuffed in the patrol car's back seat, he used to
shoot Johnson 7 times.
Quintero's lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that he was criminally insane
and incapable of knowing his actions were wrong.
"I believe he has value," said juror Letty Burkholder, of Houston. "He's
loved by many of his family and friends, and that was number one. I felt
like he has potential."
The decision shocked Johnson's family. His sister collapsed in the lobby
of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, his mother-in-law shouted in
the street. Johnson's widow sobbed in disbelief.
"My husband's life meant nothing that's what I felt," said Joslyn
Johnson, also an HPD officer.
"If any case ever warranted the death penalty, this certainly did," she
said. "The city lost a hero. I lost my husband."
In front of the courthouse, her mother blasted the jury's decision.
"We wanted the death penalty," Lorraine Crawford said. "He's not sorry. He
would do it again."
'Not a life without value'
The decision came in the 2nd day of deliberations for the jury, which
convicted Quintero of capital murder on May 8. His defense team praised
jurors for careful consideration of "all of the evidence."
"This is not a life without value," defense attorney Danalynn Recer said
later. She also said a life sentence would help both families because it
ends the case, rather than subjecting them to years of appeals.
She said Quintero's remorse, mental health and family relationships were
mitigating factors with jurors, who discussed the case with her afterward.
Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley called it a sad day for law
Speaking outside the courthouse, Bradley said she was disappointed with
the verdict but respected it.
"We take solace in the fact that Mr. Quintero will spend the rest of his
life behind bars," fellow prosecutor John Jordan said.
Most of the jurors chose not to comment. One of two who spoke to reporters
agreed that Quintero deserves to live. She said there were sufficient
mitigating circumstances to opt for life in prison.
"I still feel we came to the right decision," said Tiffany Moore, a
38-year-old marketing director from Houston. "We could never bring Rodney
back. I feel very sad for the family, losing a loved one."
She said she wept while Rodney Johnson's sister, Susan Johnson, read a
victim impact statement after the verdict.
"You are a murderer, plain and simple," Johnson told Quintero while
staring at him. She also belittled the defense team, accusing them of
manipulating the system, especially with the insanity defense.
She later collapsed on the floor in tears as the family left the
The officer's brother, David Johnson, wanted to see Quintero sentenced to
"He shot him 4 times in the back, 3 times in the head," Johnson said. "I
can't believe that. What's mitigation?"
Previous DWI convictions
Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, shared
the family's disappointment in the sentence.
"To say the least, we are shocked by the (sentence). We felt that the case
met every criteria for a death penalty sentence," Blankinship said.
Quintero's relatives left the courtroom without commenting. His wife
appeared to be weeping as family members shielded her with their arms as
she left the room.
Jurors were told that Johnson searched Quintero before placing him in the
car but missed a 9 mm pistol in his waistband.
Quintero was stopped while driving home after work with his two
stepdaughters and a co-worker. He was drinking beer while driving a truck
that belonged to his employer, landscaper Robert Lane Camp, testimony
Camp has been indicted on federal charges of harboring an illegal
immigrant. Johnson's family also has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit
against Camp and his company. Camp and his attorney could not be reached
for comment Tuesday.
Jurors began deliberating at noon Monday and were sequestered overnight.
In arguing for the death penalty, prosecutors pointed out that Quintero
had several DWI convictions and was deported after pleading guilty to
indecency with a 12-year-old girl in 1999.
The jury did not hear any details of that crime.
What prison life will hold
Quintero's first stop will be Huntsville's Byrd Unit, where his criminal
history, psychological makeup and work skills will be evaluated before
he's shipped to his permanent maximum security home.
On the prison system's six-point classification scale ranging from G1
trusties to administrative segregation, the worst of the worst the killer
will be classified as a G3. As such, he will be required to work but will
be strictly limited in where he can work.
Never will he be allowed to work off-prison in a prison farm field, for
instance except under armed guard. While his work assignment is
contingent on Byrd Unit findings, such inmates typically start off as
field hands. They are required to rise at 4 a.m. and work through
Quintero will be housed with other G3 offenders in a cellblock or prison
dormitory within the main building.
He will be allowed 4 hours of group recreation Mondays through Fridays,
and seven hours on Saturday and Sunday.
He will be allowed weekend visits from his family and others on a
10-person visitation list, said prisons spokesman Jason Clark. Quintero
will be eligible to participate in prison education programs. Recreation
and other privileges can be reduced if he violates prison rules.
Quintero sentence baffling to many—-Was it result of good lawyering or a
change in political climate?
It sounded like a foolproof recipe for a death sentence: an admired and
respected police officer shot in the back by an illegal immigrant whose
history included criminal convictions for drunken driving and indecency
with a child as well as deportation.
But a Harris County jury decided otherwise, shocking most people who paid
even the slightest attention to a trial in which the shooting itself was
never an issue and the defendant's character offered little to praise.
Danalynn Recer, one of the attorneys for Juan Quintero, said the lesson to
take from the jury's decision to give him life without parole instead of
death is that the people of Harris County are far from the bloodthirsty
yahoos of national caricature.
"We had a smart and thoughtful jury," Recer said. "The people of Harris
County do not respond in the automatic, knee-jerk way that we are led to
believe. I'm proud of this jury. They saw his humanity."
University of Houston law professor David Dow, who heads the Innocence
Network, which investigates potentially troubled capital convictions, said
the jury's decision is the result of good work done by Quintero's lawyers
to portray a troubled person, not a monster. He does not think it reflects
the national trend away from imposing death sentences.
'Brilliant legal tactic'
"I think we may be in a new climate," Dow said. "But I think the lesson in
this case is that the lawyering matters a lot. The defense strategy of
front-loading all the evidence about his mental problems in the
guilt/innocence stage (of the trial) was a brilliant legal tactic. It had
the jury thinking from the 1st stage of the case that there is something
wrong with this person. And even in Harris County, the death penalty
capital of the world, when the jury thinks there is something wrong with a
person that interferes with his judgment, they will be willing to not
impose the death penalty."
Another death penalty expert, Adam Gershowitz of the South Texas College
of Law, also was unwilling to make too much of the verdict other than it
"It's very surprising," Gershowitz said. "I find it hard to believe that
this case is the result of that trend (of fewer death cases). I think it
has to be the result of this particular jury. If they seated another jury
tomorrow, it could come to a different conclusion."
There is no disputing that death sentences in the United States are in
decline. The total has dropped steadily from 326 in 1995 to just over 100
in 2007. Abolitionists claim the public taste for capital punishment has
diminished because of exonerations and other well-publicized shortcomings
of the criminal justice system.
Experts also point to the widespread use of life-without-parole laws. Only
one of the 36 states that permit capital punishment New Mexico does not
have a life-without-parole provision in its penal code. There is a general
consensus that the sentencing option tends to reduce death sentences.
Average down sharply
Texas added the life-without-parole measure in September 2005. Over the
past three years, juries in the state have returned death sentences in 14,
11 and 15 cases, respectively. The yearly average over the previous decade
was 34, and the lowest previous total was 23.
The overall effect on capital prosecutions may be hard to deny. But to
Dianne Clements, head of the victim rights organization Justice For All,
the Quintero case falls into a different category the unpredictable jury.
"Juries are quirky," Clements said. "Not having sat through the testimony,
I don't know quite what to say. If there is a death-appropriate case, this
is it. On the face of it, it looks like they made a mistake."
(source for both above: Houston Chronicle)