Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, others ask Texas governor to stop execution of Rodney Reed

A petition has drawn over a million signatures, and other celebrities have also joined the campaign against the execution of Rodney Reed, who was convicted in a 1996 rape and murder.
Image: Rodney Reed at a Bastrop County District Court hearing in 2017.
Rodney Reed at a Bastrop County District Court hearing in 2017.Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

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By Minyvonne Burke

Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Meek Mill are among the celebrities who are urging the Texas governor to stop the Nov. 20 execution of a Texas inmate.

Death-row prisoner Rodney Reed, 51, was convicted of killing Stacey Stites on April 23, 1996. According to NBC affiliate KXAN in Austin, her body was found on a rural road in Bastrop County, outside of Austin.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says that Reed "strangled and killed" 20-year-old Stites "during an aggravated sexual assault."

Reed, who was 28 at the time of the crime, was identified by DNA evidence taken from the crime scene, according to the Texas government site. He has been on death row since his conviction in 1998.

Reed has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys have said that new evidence, including a sworn affidavit by a fellow inmate implicating another man, would exonerate him.

The case has caught the attention of a number of celebrities, who have taken to Twitter to urge people to sign an online petition calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop Reed's execution. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than a million signatures.

"One Click!! SIGN the petition if you don't believe the Government should kill an innocent man!!!" singer Rihanna wrote, tagging the governor in her tweet.

"PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest," Kardashian West wrote. "I URGE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING."

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In a separate tweet, Kardashian West wrote that she believes Reed is innocent. The reality star, who is studying to become a lawyer, has advocated successfully in the past for the release of other prisoners.

Actor Larenz Tate urged his followers to read, sign and then share the petition "to prevent #RodneyReed from being executed."

"All evidence points to his innocence! Help Stop this execution!" Tate tweeted.

Other celebrities also joined in.

Andrew F. MacRae, an attorney for Reed, told NBC News in a statement on Tuesday that Reed's advocates are grateful for the shows of support, "celebrity and otherwise."

"Although I hear consistently that our country is becoming more divided, there is at least one thing on which all Americans seem to be unified — the importance of justice," he said.

According to the Innocence Project, another inmate in Texas said in an affidavit that Stites' fiancé, a former police officer, Jimmy Fennell, allegedly confessed during a conversation to killing her.

The inmate said that Fennell, who is white, was upset that Stites was having an affair with a black man.

At the time of his alleged confession, Fennell was in prison for abducting and raping another woman. He was released in March 2018 after serving 10 years, according to KXAN. Fennell was an original person of interest in Stites' murder, the outlet reports.

Other witnesses have also said that Fennell was angry over the alleged tryst and had threatened to kill her prior to the murder, according to the Innocence Project.

Fennell's lawyer, Robert Phillips, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. In a statement Monday to CBS News, the lawyer said Fennell was not involved in Stites' killing and had been devastated by her death.

The Innocence Project wrote on its website that the new evidence in the case "could not have been discovered or presented in any of Reed’s prior pleadings and supports his actual innocence. None of the aforementioned statements have been heard in court before."

On Oct. 30, Reed's legal team filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommending that Abbott grant a commutation of Reed's sentence. The governor's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Bryce Benjet, an attorney at the Innocence Project who is representing Reed, said in a statement last week that Texas "is frighteningly close to executing an innocent man."