Thursday, November 13, 2014

DARBY TILLIS REMEMBERED

By Marlene Martin
 
Sadly, our good friend and comrade in struggle Darby Tillis—the first exonerated Illinois death row prisoner in the modern era of the death penalty, passed away on Sunday November 10, at the age of 71. He was a steadfast fighter for abolition. After being released from prison in 1987, along with his co-defendant Perry Cobb, Darby spent the entire rest of his life fighting for justice. 
 
We will miss Darby terribly. To many of us, he was a teacher, someone who knew and could explain the criminal justice system from the inside out, and who worked passionately to expose it. Working alongside Darby in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty was an honor. 
 
His full name was Jesse “Darby” Tillis, but we all knew him as Darby.
It was so easy to grow fond of Darby, even with all his quirks and bouts of stubbornness—qualities that must have helped him survive an unjust imprisonment on death row. Darby stood out in every way (it wasn’t just his name that was unique!) There was, for example, his signature attire: He always dressed all in black, often wearing a black cape, even in the summer, along with a black cap and black alligator boots. Instead of using the word prison, he would talk about the “the penitentiary for the poor.” Referring to the corruption in Chicago’s Cook County, he would instead call it “Crook County.” 
 
Darby was certainly one of a kind. For a long time, he drove around in an old limousine, and across the side, he had scrawled, “Thou shall not kill.” But Darby was no joke, and none of what he did was for laughs. He wanted to shock people into paying attention. This is why he once strode through downtown Chicago in an orange prison jumpsuit, complete with chains, carrying a bullhorn calling for abolition—he called these walks “The Death Row Shuffle.” He would do anything to draw attention to this cause. He was all guts, and spit fire.
 
I heard Darby speak countless times over the years. In his characteristic low, raspy voice, Darby could hold audiences spellbound, telling them about how he had been “kidnapped, used and abused by the Illinois criminal justice system, and how he had been tried five times, “more than any other person in the history of the U.S.” (Actually, along with Darby and Perry, this unique distinction also belongs to the Scottsboro Boys, African American youth from Jim Crow Alabama who were falsely accused of rape.)
 
I never heard Darby say he spent “nine years” in prison, or “just over nine years.” He always gave people the precise amount of time, each time he spoke: “nine years, one month and 17 days.” Why? I’m not sure, but I think that he wanted to make it clear he knew exactly what had been stolen from him. 
 
He was bitter about the years taken from him—how couldn’t he be—and you could feel that in him. And he wanted people to know those precious moments of his life—each and every day that was stolen—were times that he wasn’t with his mom when she passed or wasn’t able to help his daughter when she needed him. He wanted people to feel that—to try to have some understanding of what having part of their lives stolen is like. And he also wanted to make it known that he was keeping score. 
 
Darby had been sent to prison by Judge Thomas Maloney, who was later found guilty of taking bribes to fix cases and was sent to prison for 15 years. Darby liked to include this fact in all of his presentations, too, since it’s so rare for a judge, prosecutors or police to face any consequences for sending the wrong people to prison or death row. At the end of one interview, Darby asked a journalist how it could be that the system was still doing the same exact thing it did to him all those many years ago—sending the wrong people to prison. He believed a big part of the reason it continued was because those who rule over the system never face any consequences for the miscarriages of justice they help to arrange.
 
I first heard Darby speak at a forum put on by the International Socialist Organization in the early 1990s. The title of the panel was, “The War on Poverty”—Darby was asked to speak on the connection of the criminal justice system. I was blown away by what I heard. 
 
He was a street preacher, and he had the cadence, confidence and passion of the profession, but he also had something very unique, which was a relentless determination to hold the criminal injustice system accountable for the wrongs it had done to him and to so many others, and that it was still doing. He taught me, along with many others in the abolitionist community, so much about the unfair workings of the criminal justice system and its deep-seated racism. 
 
Darby was at ground zero in the fight to win the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, which we achieved in 2011. He also traveled on our national speaking tours on many occasions, rousing the audience and imploring people to join him in the fight against this injustice.
 
He talked tough, and he was, but he was also deeply compassionate, caring and gentle. I don’t think there was a single time that I talked with Darby when he didn’t first ask how my family was. 
 
He befriended family members who had loved ones in jail. He spent time with Martina Correia and Virginia Davis, the sister and mother of Troy Davis, the innocent Georgia death row prisoner who was executed in 2011. Darby drove to Atlanta to be with them for one of Troy’s last execution dates. He sat with them, prayed with them and gave them comfort in an impossible time.
 
When Mark Clements, a victim of Chicago police torture, was finally released from Illinois prison after 28 years, he said it was Darby who took him under his wing, mentored him and looked after him. They became very fond of one another and spent a lot of time together. As Mark says, “He supported me—he encouraged me to stand up against wrong.” Losing Darby leaves a “hole in my heart which will never be able to be filled,” Mark said.
 
Several times, when Darby spoke at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s annual conventions, he paid tribute to the work of the campaign, speaking thoughtfully and poetically about our accomplishments and why it was so important to stay the course.
 
It was through the Campaign that Darby would meet Cathy McMillan, who was fighting on behalf of her brother. Darby spent the last several years close to Cathy, whom he adored.
 
In later years, even when it was difficult for him to walk, he would still come out for events. 
 
At the final big rally for Troy Davis in Atlanta, Darby was with us among the 3,000-person rally. He spoke to the audience and performed a rousing song he wrote for Troy Davis, titled “Let’s Fight Together.” The song pleaded with the authorities to do the right thing and free an innocent man. The lyrics were beautiful and the music upbeat, holding out the promise that we could win. Darby was incredibly talented as a songwriter and harmonica player, and he absolutely loved the blues. You couldn’t go on a road trip with Darby without him popping in the CD he recorded during the trip.
 
One of the last times I saw him was when he spoke out at a rally in Chicago to call for justice for Trayvon Martin. Darby could always be counted on to help in the struggle. 
 
After the decades-long fight to win abolition in Illinois, Darby was careful to point out that the victory shouldn’t just be laid at the feet of Gov. George Ryan, who first put a moratorium on the death penalty and then cleared death row by granting clemency to every prisoner. Nor should the lawyers and journalists get the credit solely—he reminded us that it was also pivotal what activists did. This is how he put it when I asked him about how we won abolition for an article for Socialist Worker newspaper:
 
“We worked hard to get the ear of Governor Ryan, we got exonerated and family members out there, and he heard their pleas. We kept on and got the ears of the politicians to see our point, and as a result, we have destroyed this dinosaur. It shows that when we stand together and don't give up, we can win.
 
It's so different now compared to when we first started. People used to look at us like we were the culprits. Now they see us, and they want to stand with us. They say, "Hey, can I hold that picket sign?" and "Keep up the good work." People can see that the death penalty is senseless--it won't cure the ills in society. They can see the corrupt and flawed nature of the system.”
 
I asked Darby what we abolitionists should say in a situation where the guilt of the defendant is certain. Here’s how he responded:
 
“I used to say I would kill him myself if I saw him do it. But I have had a change of heart on that. You have to look beyond the person to understand why they did what they did. In some of these communities in Chicago, they're so barren, so desolate--they're like a desert. When I go there, I feel nothing but pain and hurt. It feels deadly--there's such a lack of resources.
 
When you grow up and live in a community like that, you become subhuman, because you live like you're in a combat zone. Police are cruising around, and young men are out on the street with nothing to do in miserable circumstances. Just like the soldiers coming back from Iraq who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, so do the people in these desolate, crime-ridden, cop-patrolled communities.
 
They're battlegrounds, and you don't hear any of the politicians saying anything about it. These problems need to seriously be addressed and not just by a program or two--it needs to be deeper than that.”
 
The article ended with a quote from Darby giving instructions to activists about what’s next: "We have to align ourselves with people who want to build a safe and sound society. We've shown people what we can do when we come together. We can get justice if we work hard.”
 
One of the best ways we can remember Darby is to bring a bit of his spirit into our fight for justice today. One of the last struggles he was concerned about was that of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed, who faces an execution date in Texas on January 14. He had befriended Sandra Reed, the mother of Rodney and spoke of her as “an angel who was wounded by a system that doesn’t give a damn about poor, colored people.” Darby wasn’t able to attend the Campaign’s convention this year in Texas, but he was there in spirit the whole time.  
 
To learn more about the fight for Rodney, please go to our website at www.nodeathpenalty.org.
 
Darby would be proud to know we will carry on with this fight, standing tall, and feeling him holding us up from behind.
 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Darby Tillis, Exonerated Death Row Survivor from Illinois Dies at 71

Darby Tillis, a death-row survivor who spent more than nine years incarcerated in Illinois, including four years on death-row, passed away at the age of seventy one. Darby was living in an old limousine in the streets of Chicago. Severely wounded by his experience on death-row, he traveled around the country telling the story of his wrongful conviction to anyone that would listen. In 2007, he took a bus ride from Chicago to Austin to support the successful campaign to save Kenneth Foster Jr. He never failed to mention that the judge who convicted him "is doing fifteen years in a federal penitentiary." I recorded this video of him performing his signature song at the same 2007 rally for Kenneth Foster.

Darby and Perry Cobb were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1977 murder and armed robbery of the owner and an employee of a hotdog stand on the north side of Chicago. They were arrested three weeks after the crime when a witness, Phyllis Santini, went to the police with a story implicating them. Both men professed their innocence. It took three Cook County jury trials for prosecutors to convict Tillis and Cobb. The first two trials ended in hung juries. The third resulted in convictions and death sentences, but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the case based on judicial error. The two men were acquitted at the fifth trial in 1987 after Michael Falconer, a Lake County prosecutor, came forward after reading an article about the case by Rob Warden in the Chicago Lawyer. Falconer said the state’s chief witness against Mr. Tillis and Cobb had confided to him that the crime actually was committed by another man, her boyfriend. Fourteen years later, as a result of petitions brought by the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the MacArthur Justice Center, Governor George Ryan granted Tillis and Cobb pardons based on actual innocence.actual innocence.


 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Execution Watch: Miguel Paredes, Oct. 28

Miguel Paredes


On Tuesday, Texas is slated to carry out its last execution of 2014, that of Miguel Paredes.

Last month, Paredes gave Execution Watch an interview, which we will broadcast in its entirety. This edition of the show will air in Houston on the HD3 channel of KPFT FM because the station is in fund drive. As always, a live stream of the show will be accessible worldwide at http://executionwatch.org > Listen.

MIGUEL PAREDES, Convicted of acting with John Saenz and Greg Alvarado in 2000 to shoot and kill three members of a rival gang in San Antonio. Paredes, who joined the Pistoleros prison gang before he was 17, was one of 20 children born to poor, Mexican-immigrant parents. The family moved to the west side of San Antonio when Paredes was a boy. After going to death row, he contributed Part 3 of a series called, "Letter to a Future Death Row Inmate." The text of the letter he wrote and a link to his his artwork are at http://minutesbeforesix.blogspot.com/2010/09/letters-to-future-death-row-inmate-part.html

SHOW LINEUP
Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict and activist who founded, and hosted for 30 years, The Prison Show on KPFT. His internet radio show airs Wednesdays, 2 PM CT, at hmsnetradio.org.

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator, retired attorney and native Texan who has seen capital trials as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Also, Houston criminal defense attorneys SUSAN ASHLEY, LARRY DOUGLAS, MICHAEL GILLESPIE & JACK LEE.

Featured Guest: MIGUEL PAREDES, the condemned man, who gave an interview to Execution Watch last month. The results will broadcast unedited and uncut. A videotape of the interview, and of the show’s live radio broadcast, will air soon on Houston MediaSource, http://hmstv.org/.

Reporter, Outside the Death House, Huntsville: PAT HARTWELL, member, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, www.abolitionmovement.org.

Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVE ATWOOD, founder and former board member, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, www.tcadp.org.

NEXT SCHEDULED EXECUTION
On Jan. 14, Texas plans to kill RODNEY REED, one of nine Texas executions already scheduled in 2015. Execution Watch will air coverage of each.

PRODUCER: Elizabeth, eliza.tx.usa [at] gmail.com.
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Otis Maclay.
VIDEO PHOTOGRAPHER: Mark Pirtle.
THEME: By Victoria Panetti, SheMonster International, myspace.com/shemonster.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Poems from death-row

More several individuals have asked for the poems which were read at Willie Trottie's execution. Two of the poems ("judge ye not" and "good bye"), were written by Eugene Broxton (TX #999044), a close friend of T-Rock's. Eugene and T-Rock have been friends for many years (Eugene entered in 1992, and T-Rock in 1993. Both were convicted out of Harris County). Ker'Sean Ramey (#999519) wrote "stand up to injustice". Ker'Sean has been a friend of T-Rock's since he entered death row out of Jackson County in 2007. 
"JUDGE YE NOT" (Read by Auntie Cynthia)
Have you walked in the shoes
Of the person you judge,
Have you shared their most
Intimate thoughts,
Have you known of the tears,
The doubts and the fears,
Or the battle that person
Has fought?
Have you shared in the secrets
That lie in the heart,
When they don't understand,
They condemn off hand
But trusting in me,
Your eyes confide,
Holding nothing,
Telling no lies,
Then suddenly I was startled,
At my own reflection,
Your eyes mirrored
My imperfection,
So, who was I looking at?
Who did I really see?
Was it you?
Or was it me?
Or am I you?
And you are me?
Written by Eugene Broxton #999044 in 1996
"GOOD BYE" (Read by Momma T)
Saying goodbye is never easy
But moving on
We all must do
Going on with our lives
Not just talking about it
But seeing it through
Move on,
My love,
Move on,
And live,
You have,
Much more to give
Now it's time I must go
It's not easy to say good bye
But it's time
So I say good bye
Know my love for you is true
And as long as you live,
My love will be with you
Written by Eugene Broxton #999044 July 2010
"STAND UP TO INJUSTICE" (Read by Pat after the bell was rung 20 times)
Stand up to injustice,
and let it be known.
You will not tolerate it,
even from the king on his throne.
Stand up to injustice,
cause it could happen to you.
And then what would you want
the rest of the world to do?
Stand up to injustice,
in every shape, size and color.
Then come together to stop this
from going any further.
Stand up to injustice,
for you and for me,
'cause one finger can be broken,
but a fist can not be too easily.
Fight this injustice,
whether a woman or a man,
'cause separated we fall,
but United, We Stand.
Written by Ker' Sean Ramey #999519

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Oklahoma Execution Report Raises More Questions Than Answers

Five points by Gloria Rubac

1.  Oklahoma, like Arizona and Ohio who've also botched executions, are experimenting on how to kill people, using live subjects. Looking for the best kill methods on prisoners is WRONG!

2. An attorney for Oklahoma death row prisoners has filed a very detailed, 33-page lawsuit against the Dept of Corrections, the executioners, the doctors, the paramedic, the warden -- 14 people in all. There are eight specific violations of law they are charged with and with the sub-points, they enumerate 124 charges against the listed defendants who botched the execution of of Clayton Lockett last April.


3. The autopsy was done in Dallas and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott ruled that parts of the results of the autopsy can remain a secret from the public, including the name of the doctor and paramedic and also where the drugs were bought. Gregg Abbott, who is runnig for governor of Texas, has received a very large campaign contributions from a Conroe compounding pharmacist.

4. Oklahoma's written procedures mandate the participation in each execution of a licensed physician. The physician's functions include insertion of intravenous lines into the condemned person and the performance of cut down procedures to gain intravenous access to the condemned person.

5. In a most ironic and factually absurd statement, the prison warden, Anita Trammell, told the investigators that Mr. Lockett was covered with a sheet to "preserve his dignity."

MarchforAbolition.org

IV Misplaced in Oklahoma Execution, Report Says
By SEPT. 4, 2014

Jason Holt, left front, captain of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and Michael C. Thompson, the public safety commissioner, fielded questions on Thursday. Credit Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

An official report released Thursday about a bungled execution in Oklahoma in April says that an improperly placed intravenous line in the prisoner’s groin allowed the drugs to perfuse surrounding tissue rather than to flow directly into his bloodstream.

The report was ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin after the prolonged writhing and gasping of the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, during an execution that drew global attention to death penalty procedures and problems associated with lethal injections.

Because the groin area was covered with a sheet as the injections began — first a sedative intended to render Mr. Lockett unconscious, and then paralyzing and heart-stopping agents — the doctor and paramedic on the scene did not see the bulge, larger than a golf ball, indicating a procedure gone awry, said the report by Michael C. Thompson, the commissioner of public safety.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Drop Rodney Reed's Execution

Stand With Texas Death Row Prisoner Rodney Reed!
DROP THE DATE! TEST ALL THE DNA!


The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, along with the family and supporters of Rodney Reed rejects the decision today to issue a death warrant for innocent Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed for January 14, 2015.

We have long believed in Rodney’s innocence and, during a hearing today in Bastrop County, we once again heard of the multitude of evidence that could prove Rodney’s innocence if given a fair hearing either through a new trial or through the appeals process.

We learned today that the state has agreed to important but limited new DNA testing of some crime scene evidence – and that the defense is asking for even more DNA testing of several other items related to the crime scene.

While important evidence is being tested and interpreted, and while other testing is being considered, it is both irresponsible and cruel for the state to seek an execution date and for the warrant to be issued by any judge. This amounts to torture for both Rodney and his family, who now have to live under the threat of an specific execution date, even as Rodney’s defense team and supporters fight to prove his innocence.

As Rodney Reed’s mother Sandra said about the decision to grant the death warrant, “We’re very disappointed…We were thinking everything was possibly gonna be positive about the hearing today, but it was a very disappointing outcome. But the thing is that we remain to stay strong and especially for him - Rodney is strong and the truth keeps us strong. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Despite the obscene injustice that took place in Bastrop today, Rodney’s family and supporters stand strong in our determination to fight to save the life of Rodney Reed.

Rodney’s defense will continue to work on getting all the DNA tested, as well as still working for appellate relief on issues around the misinterpretation of scientific evidence. There is a chance that the Supreme Court could hear the case - an announcement would likely be made in late October if that were to happen.

And Rodney’s family and supporters have vowed to keep up the fight outside the courthouse. We are planning a rally on July 24th at 11 am outside the Bastrop County Court House to call the State of Texas to account for it’s role in seeking the death warrant and to demand that all the DNA be tested in this case.

Now is the time to get involved in the struggle for justice and to save Rodney Reed! We have seen to many times how innocent people are caught up by an unjust system. People like Anthony Graves, released off death row after years of struggling to prove his innocence, like Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas despite proof of his innocence revealed long before his execution took place.

Or people like Yusef Salaam, who was won his freedom decades after being wrongfully convicted of rape in the infamous Central Park Jogger case in New York. Today Yusef offered these words in support of Rodney, “My brother Rodney, like too many others, has been railroaded onto death row by the racist system of criminal injustice. Corruption and vengefulness has turned Rodney’s life – and that of his family into a living nightmare, one the thousands on death row know all too well – the innocent and guilty alike. We must shout Rodney’s name from the rooftops: we will not let the state of Texas take him from us!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

From Texas death row: Two cases of injustice

By: Lily Hughes for the New Abolitionist

The state of Texas maintains the most active execution chamber in the nation, amid questionable practices and a host of controversial executions.
Texas has executed seven people already this year as of May 2014. The state has put at least 515 people to death since executions were reinstated in 1982, far more than any other state.
Over the last 15 years, there have been scandals at DNA labs, and revelations of judges and lawyers sleeping through portions of capital cases. Meanwhile, clear evidence of racial bias in sentencing, a lack of funding for indigent defendants and an assembly line approach to executions continue to plague the Texas system.
Despite this, the courts here are known to rubber-stamp death penalty convictions with little scrutiny. The worst offender is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas.
The many problems in the application of the death penalty in Texas have undoubtedly led to the execution of innocent people.
While a only a few people have won exoneration off Texas death row over the years—Clarence Brandley, Randall Adams, and most recently, Anthony Graves—many more of those executed are believed to have been innocent.
The most prominent example is the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for allegedly starting a house fire that resulted in the death of his three children. However, a forensic review using updated fire-science investigation methods has revealed that there likely was no arson, and that the fire was accidental. This evidence was available before Willingham’s execution, yet Texas authorities chose to ignore it.
More recently, the New York-based Innocence Project has been working to win a posthumous exoneration for Willingham. Lawyers there uncovered new evidence of a deal for a reduction in charges for a jailhouse informant who fingered Willingham. In April of this year, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles once again denied the request for a pardon for Willingham.
There are several death row prisoners currently facing execution in Texas with strong cases for innocence, including the cases of Rodney Reed and Louis Castro Perez.
Test all the evidence
The case of Louis Castro Perez
The case of Louis Castro Perez—who, like Rodney Reed, is from central Texas—has taken a path like Rodney’s case. Louis was sentenced to death in 1999, convicted of the murders of his friends Michelle Fulwiler and Cynda Barz, and Barz’s 9-year-old daughter Staci Mitchell.
However, over the years, Perez’s family, and especially his sister Delia Perez Myer, have fought to get evidence of his innocence heard by the courts, including authorizing extensive testing to be done on foreign DNA samples from several items left at the crime scene.
Perez was convicted based on the presence of his DNA and fingerprints at the crime scene. As both the prosecution and defense acknowledged, Perez had been a guest in the home over the preceding days. According to him, he left that morning to meet a friend, and when he returned later, he encountered a badly beaten, yet still alive Cynda Barz at the front door. He kneeled down to help her, asking what had happened. When he tried to pick her up, she scratched him. He panicked and put her back down, leaving a palm print next to her body. Perez then fled the scene.
As Delia Perez Myer told reporter Rebekah Skelton in 2012, Perez fled because of an arrest warrant he had for evading child support, “My first blame is that my brother didn’t dial 911. He didn’t want to get involved, and he just walked out the door.”
However, Perez Myer also pointed out that Perez may have fled the scene of a crime in progress, “We believe the actual murderer was still in the home, because when Louis left, someone dead bolted the door behind him,” she said.
When Perez learned that he was a suspect in the murder, he went down to the police station himself—he was certain that the evidence would show that he was not responsible for the crime.
Regarding the DNA evidence, there was unknown DNA identified on a rag wrapped around a knife at the scene of the crime, as well as on a towel near one of the victims. Crime scene investigators admitted under oath that the Austin Police Department sent this material to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and asked them to only look for Perez’s DNA.
In addition, Crime Scene Specialist Michelle Thompson testified at trial that three possible murder weapons were found at the scene of the crime: a Comal (a flat cooking griddle), a telephone cord, and a pair of pantyhose. None of these items held any evidence of Perez’s DNA or fingerprints.
More recently, new laws in Texas have made access to DNA testing by prisoners much easier, and that may lead to a breakthrough in the case. More DNA evidence has been discovered and other evidence that hasn’t been tested before has been made available to the defense.
Delia Perez Myer told the New Abolitionist, “It wasn’t until recently that our new attorneys and the Innocence Project based in New York were able to secure permission from the Western District of the Federal Courts to allow further DNA testing.” While results of that testing are not yet available to the public, it’s hoped that they may bolster Perez’s claim of innocence.
Perez Myer pointed out further issues in the conviction of her brother: “It is clear and evident that there were many errors in his case, including prosecutorial misconduct, withholding of exculpatory evidence, serious issues with the Travis County Medical Examiners not having their licensing in order and retracting statements made during our investigations; problems at the DNA Labs at the Texas Department of Public Safety—and, of course, the more than 40 fingerprints found at the crime scene that didn’t match Louis.”
Also, like the Rodney Reed case, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has recently released an opinion denying relief to Louis Castro Perez.
His latest appeal was based on an issue of ineffective assistance of counsel. The 5th U.S. Circuit had previously rendered a judgment denying Perez relief. His lawyer then had 30 days to respond. However, she failed to respond to a 30-day deadline for filing a new motion with the district court. In fact, this attorney received notification of the deadline and, without alerting Louis or the other consulting attorney on the case, decided on her own not to respond to the motion, effectively abandoning her client.
In March 2012, after being made aware of the error, the court granted a motion to allow Perez to reenter the appeal that his lawyer should have made. However, in March of this year, the 5th U.S. Circuit vacated that order and decided to let the original judgment of denial of relief stand. Unless the 5th U.S. Circuit reconsiders that decision, Perez’s case will go on the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Perez Myer says of her brother’s case, “It is imperative that we move forward with our innocence claim and find the true perpetrator in this triple homicide from September 1998 where Louis’ friends Michelle Cynda, and Stacey were so heinously murdered. We must ensure that no other family go through what we have been through, having a wrongfully convicted loved one sent to our torturous death row here in Texas.”
Over the next few months, activists in Austin, alongside Perez Myer, will be working to put together a screening of a new movie, The Road to Livingston, which documents her visits to her brother on death row and their relationship over the long years he has spent on death row.
Perez Myer continues to speak around the country and the world about her brother’s case, and to fight against the death penalty for everyone.
Seventeen years fighting to be heard
The case of Rodney Reed
On December 4, 2013, about a dozen family members and supporters of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed stood in front of the Texas State Capitol holding signs surrounded by every local media outlet in Austin.
That same day, down in New Orleans, Reed’s lawyers were presenting oral arguments to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Rodney’s case had been denied an appeal by the highest criminal court in Texas and was being heard for the first time by judges of the 5th Circuit. Because oral arguments are rarely granted in federal district courts, hopes were high among Reed’s family and supporters.
Reed’s mother Sandra spoke to the ­assembled reporters: “Knowing the ­evidence, knowing the truth keeps us strong,” she said.
For years, Rodney’s family, legal team, and activists have fought to get the evidence of that truth heard by the courts: Rodney Reed is innocent on death row.
Rodney Reed has been on death row for 17 years, convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Although the state claims Reed did not know Stacey, many witnesses attested to an ongoing affair between Reed and Stites, lasting over the course of months. Stites became engaged to Jimmy Fennell Jr., a police officer in the nearby town of Giddings, during this time.
On April 23, 1996, the truck that Stites and Fennell shared was found abandoned at Bastrop High School in the early morning hours, and her body was found dumped on a lonely stretch of country road later that afternoon. She had been strangled, and the remains of a belt were found next to her body. The subsequent autopsy revealed a small amount of semen, although there was no clear evidence of bruising consistent with rape.
One year later, Rodney was charged with Stites’ murder. He was convicted on the basis of a single piece of forensic evidence—semen DNA. Reed admitted to being with Stites over a day before her murder, which explained the presence of his DNA.
At trial, the state argued that the semen was deposited just before the time of Stites’s death, in order to bolster the rape and murder charges. Reed’s defense has consistently argued that the semen found was much older than the state claimed.
In 2012, the former medical examiner who testified for the prosecution refuted the claim he made at trial that the semen had to be less than 24 hours old. In an affidavit for Reed’s defense, Robert Bayardo says that his forensics findings were “misconstrued” by the prosecution, saying that “My estimate of time of death…should not have been used at trial as an accurate statement of when…Stites died.”
Another medical examiner, Lloyd White examined the evidence in the case for the Austin Chronicle back in 2002. Speaking to the state’s contention at trial about when the sperm was deposited he said, “There have been documented cases where you can recognize the spermatozoa in bodies that have been dead for days.”
No other physical evidence connects Reed to this crime. Meanwhile, a pattern of other evidence links Stites’ fiancé and former police officer Jimmy Fennell, Jr., to the crime. He was one of the first suspects in the murder, and failed two lie detector tests when asked if he had strangled Stites. DNA found on beer cans at the crime scene have been linked to two police officers—evidence available at trial, which the prosecution failed to give to the defense.
At new hearings for Reed in 2006, one witness testified to seeing Stites and Fennell in the early morning hours of the day of her murder. Another witness testified while at the police academy together, she had overheard Fennell say that he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt if he found her cheating on him—which is how Stites died.
Despite the fact that the state claimed Stites was killed in the truck owned by her and Fennell, none of Reed’s fingerprints were found in the truck—only Stites and Fennell’s fingerprints were present. There was evidence of body fluid between the passenger and driver seat. Before the defense could have access to the truck or request further testing of any of this forensic evidence, the truck was returned to Fennell and he sold it within days of the murder.
Fennell is currently serving time, after being convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman he detained while policing in Georgetown, Texas.
All of this and more was presented in Reed’s recent appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court. However, on January 15 of this year, the court upheld the lower court’s decision to deny the appeal. The federal courts dismissed Bayardo’s new affidavit regarding the semen DNA , saying that even substantively considered, Dr. Bayardo’s affidavit would have “little probative value.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit time and time again dismisses various witnesses for Reed as “not credible,” including witnesses who testified to the affair between Reed and Stites, and witnesses who linked Fennell to Stites’s murder.
The decision by the court was shocking to Reed’s family, as his mother Sandra said, “simply because all of the truth has been denied over the past 17 years. The truth has been on the table pointing to someone else, the DNA on the beer cans implicating two police officers in the very beginning of this case, which was suppressed at trial.
“Rodney had an alibi witness. The state said he didn’t, but he did—and the reason why they could say that is because the judge Towslee denied the alibi witness to testify. Nothing led to Rodney’s conviction except the so-called DNA, and we know now that it was old.”
Despite a mountain of evidence of Reed’s innocence, the courts continue to fall back on procedural bars to the admission of this evidence. That is why Reed’s family and supporters continue to try to build public awareness and outcry against any execution for Rodney.
The threat of execution and the constant denial by the courts have taken a toll on Rodney and his family. “Until a person is in our place, you can’t really describe it,” Sandra said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow—the corruption and injustice that’s dwelling in my son’s case.”
Despite this, Sandra said that “Rodney’s handling things very well—he’s remaining strong for himself. The truth keeps us all strong, and believing that justice will prevail.”
On February 14 this year, his family and supporters were out in the streets again—this time picketing the Bastrop County Courthouse, asking the district attorney to drop the charges against Rodney or grant him a new trial.
“The best way to go right now is to get the petitions to Bryan Goertz, the district attorney, and rallying here in Bastrop,” said Rodrick Reed, Rodney’s brother and his active supporter, “Right now, it’s in his hands, so I think the best thing to do is make noise here in Bastrop.”
Activists have plans to go back with our petition for Reed—over 10,000 people have signed an online version demanding a new trial.
Rodney’s case is now heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, but despite this, the state of Texas has already attempted to have an execution date set. While one hasn’t been set yet, the urgency of the situation could not be more dire.
Fighting back
These are just two of the cases in which death penalty abolitionists in Texas are fighting to win a hearing.
There are also the many cases of prisoners sentenced to death under the unjust Texas “Law of Parties,” where a person can be sentenced to death, even though they did not kill anyone. Jeff Wood was convicted under this unjust law and has been on Texas death row for the past 16 years.
There are cases like those of Hank Skinner, who has fought for years to get further DNA testing of several pieces of evidence from the crime scene, only to be told that that some crucial evidence has been lost or misplaced.
As Delia Perez Myer puts it, “I am certain that we have executed innocent men and women in Texas, from Carlos de Luna to Todd Cameron Willingham and many others. It would be naïve of me to think that Louis is the first person who has ever been innocent on death row.”
When asked the most important thing for abolitionists to do right now, Sandra Reed responded, “We have to be steady and put the fight to end the death penalty in the spotlight, because there’s too many people going through what we are. There’s many other mothers out there who are in my shoes, and we need to find them, to help them.”
The family of both Reed and Perez, alongside activists in Texas, have vowed to protest in every way possible any execution dates. Abolitionists here and around the world will continue to expose the injustices of the Texas death penalty and demand that the courts and the state of Texas acknowledge that evidence matters.
Lawmakers should not turn a blind eye to the innocence of death row prisoners in Texas. While the mistake of Cameron Todd Willingham cannot be undone, it can in the case of Rodney Reed and of Louis Castro Perez.

What you can do to help spread the word
Sign and share the petition for Rodney Reed online at change.org. 
Organize a screening of the documentary State vs. Reed, streaming online at youtube.com.
Find out about screenings of The Road to Livingston in your area. Follow the film on Facebook.
Check out our solidarity photo campaign for Rodney Reed on Instagram at Justice4Rodney. Send us your own solidarity photo to post to: austincedp@nodeathpenalty.org or to our Facebook page.
Get involved with Texas activists who are fighting executions. E-mail austincedp@nodeathpenalty.org or visit us on Facebook.
Order a bundle of newsletters from marlene@nodeathpenalty.org—do a tabling at your school or in your community to help build support. Share articles from the New Abolitionist online at nodeathpenalty.org.
Become a monthly sustainer and help sustain the efforts of the CEDP! Read more about the sustainer program in the New Abolitionist.
- See more at: http://nodeathpenalty.org/new_abolitionist/april-1999-issue-2/texas-death-row-two-cases-injustice#sthash.EiOSRMZn.dpuf