Opinion | America makes too many mistakes to still have the death penalty

Mitali Shukla
Features Editor

The Court of Execution suspended Rodney Reed’s execution just days before he was to be put to death for the the rape and murder of Stacey Stites in 1996.

Stites, 19, was fatally strangled, raped and dumped on the side of the road in Bastrop, Texas. DNA evidence convinced an all-white jury that the then 28-year old Rodney Reed was guilty and set his execution date for Nov. 20 of this year. 

This was the case until it was delayed indefinitely after reports surfaced that three people had come forward with new testimonies. Not only this, but three Texas forensic experts admitted that there were errors in their testimonies – further supporting the case that Reed, now 51, was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, according to the non-profit organization The Innocence Project. And of course, after serving 23 years in prison, Reed still maintains his innocence.

Reed’s testimony discloses that his DNA was found on Stites because they had been having an affair at the time of her murder. Stites and her fiance Jimmy Fennel were engaged when she allegedly cheated on him with Reed; multiple witnesses have verified the affair. 

Stites’ fiance Fennel was a former cop who pled guilty to kidnapping and raping a woman in 2008 while on duty, only to be released in 2018. The plot thickens: while Fennel was serving time in prison, fellow inmate Arthur J. Snow Jr. said that he heard Fennel brag about killing his girlfriend because she was cheating on him with a black man.

The pressure was on Texas Governor Abbot to delay Reed’s execution by 30 days so that the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole could look into his case. Even Kim Kardashian came out of the shadows – not to market her shapewear or makeup – but to attempt to convince President Trump to pardon yet another wrongfully convicted black American in the criminal justice system. Her husband, Kanye West, performed at Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas. I can’t complain; the power couple is using their power to better the lives of others. I just hope they continue to do so for the right reasons and with the right intent. 

Celebrities have been condemning the injustice that has defined the American criminal justice system for decades. It seems that now, since a Kardashian is fighting for the cause, criminal justice reform has hit the mainstream. Rapper Pusha T, singer Rihanna, comedian Eric Andre and recently released Cyntoia Brown – who was doing time for killing a man who picked her up for sex trafficking – have all rejected Reed’s execution.

It is not just Rodney Reed; Larry Swearingen was put to death in August for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in 1998 in Houston, Texas. The blood under Trotter’s fingernails was later discovered to be that of another man who could not be identified – not Swearingen’s. James Milton Dailey was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Shelley Boggio in 1985 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Co-defendant Jack Pearcy accused Dailey of the murder and that was enough for him to get convicted for her murder. Pearcy was later discovered in 2017 to have admitted in an affidavit that he had killed Boggio alone. 

As one of the 30 states that allow the death penalty, Texas executes more people than any other state. Those who monitor death row recognize that our criminal justice system is not perfect, but deeply flawed. How can we give the Court of Execution the power and jurisdiction to end the lives of hundreds of people when it has been proven time and time again that the criminal justice system makes too many mistakes?