DNA testing executions innocence Rodney Reed

TCADP August 2021 Newsletter: Rodney Reed returns to court to prove his innocence

In this edition:

Scheduled executions: Six Texas executions currently scheduled for the Fall of 2021

Case updates: Ruben Gutierrez, who faces execution in October, continues to seek DNA testing; Rodney Reed returns to court to prove his innocence

In case you missed it: U.S. Attorney General imposes a moratorium on federal executions; TCADP featured in “Justice looks like…” series by the Baptist Standard

Upcoming event: The TCADP Book Group will meet on September 1 

Quote of the month

“If we’re going to heal as a community, that healing is not served by another killing.” – State Representative Joe Moody (HD 78-El Paso), “Should the Walmart shooter get the death penalty? El Paso is divided,” El Paso Matters, July 30, 2021

Scheduled executions

The State of Texas has scheduled six executions for this Fall, including two in September (John Ramirez, 09/08/21, and Rick Rhoades, 09/28/21). Most of these men have faced previous execution dates in recent years. We will provide opportunities to voice your opposition to these executions as more information becomes available.

To date in 2021, the State of Texas has put two people to death. Only Texas and the federal government have carried out executions this year, and Texas is the only state with multiple executions scheduled at this time. According to a mid-year report issued by the Death Penalty Information Center, the first half of 2021 featured historically low numbers of both executions and new death sentences nationwide.

The death row population of Texas has dropped to its lowest level since 1985, according to research by TCADP. There currently are 199 people on death row, including six women. Two key factors that account for the drop are the low number of death sentences imposed in recent years and the resolution of cases of people have been re-sentenced and removed from death row based on evidence of their intellectual disability, trial errors, or other issues that reflect the legacy of injustice. Read about some these cases in our 2020 year-end report.

Case updates

Ruben Gutierrez continues to seek DNA testing
Ruben Gutierrez is scheduled to be executed on October 27, 2021; it is the fifth execution date he has faced since 2018. Gutierrez has always maintained that he did not commit the murder of Escolastica Harrison, and no physical or forensic evidence connects him to it. He has sought DNA testing for years, which the State has opposed. He filed his latest motion for post-conviction DNA testing in July.

Rodney Reed returns to court to prove his innocence
An evidentiary hearing in the case of Rodney Reed took place in Bastrop County from July 19-29, 2021, some 20 months after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted his scheduled execution and ordered the trial court to review evidence of his innocence. Reed came within five days of being executed by the State of Texas. An all-white jury convicted Reed, a Black man, of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman. Since the stay of his execution in 2019, even more new evidence has surfacedthat bolsters his claim of innocence.  

During the hearing, Judge J.D. Langley heard hours of testimony, including from prominent forensic pathology experts who questioned the time of Stites’ death  determined by the State’s medical examiner. After both sides submit their written findings, the Judge will issue a recommendation as to whether Reed should be granted a new trial. The case will then return to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a final decision on Reed’s latest appeal. Read accounts of the hearing from the Austin Chronicle here and here

In case you missed it

U.S. Department of Justice institutes moratorium on executions, removes death penalty as a sentencing option in seven cases
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently announced that the Department of Justice will institute a moratorium on federal executions. The Department also has withdrawn the death penalty as a sentencing option in seven federal cases. TCADP agrees with legal experts that these are welcome steps in the right direction, but they are not sufficient to address the egregious flaws of the federal death penalty that have been on stark display for the past year.  We are still collecting signatures on a petition urging President Biden to commute the sentences of everyone on federal death row. Sign today!

Justice looks like a second chance, even for those who have caused great harm.
TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houlé Cuellar was invited to contribute to the Baptist Standard series, “Justice looks like…”.  In her essay, Cuellar reflects on Chris Young and Billy Joe Wardlow, who were executed by the State of Texas, and what true justice could have looked like in their cases. She writes that “To achieve justice, we must acknowledge our shared worth. We must recognize all of us are more than our worst act.”  

Upcoming event

The TCADP Book Group will meet on Wednesday, September 1, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central Time to discuss Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal by Alexandra Natapoff. All are welcome. Register here.