Voices from the Inside

A death row interview with Rodney Reed

Rodney Reed has the most highly profiled case on Texas death row, which is gaining national support behind his innocence. With overwhelming evidence pointing to a police officer having committed the crime Rodney was convicted for, Reed remains on death row for a crime no one believes he committed.

In July of this year, the Court of Criminal Appeals yet again denied Rodney’s petition for a new trial. So now his case heads toward federal court, and hopes for his exoneration are high. Ray L. Jasper, a death row prisoner in Texas and co-founder of the AMITI Organization, conducted this interview with Rodney Reed.

Ray: With all the newly discovered evidence in your case pointing to the police officer Jimmy Fennel, how do you feel about the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) ruling unfavorably in your case and not addressing the actual issues?

Rodney: It was expected from my own research of how the CCA has handled cases in the past, but it was something I wasn’t hoping for, because they actually made me think there would be some form of justice, due to them ordering hearings and briefings based on the new  developments in my case we’ve come across.

They made it seem like they really wanted to hear the case, when they really just wanted to exhaust my issues. I’m glad it’s pretty much out of their hands unless the federal court sends it back, because there have been more new discoveries.

Ray: Some are now saying that defendants should no longer have to meet a gateway in an innocence claim -- that if enough evidence is in favor of innocence, this should be its own constitutional claim. Do you agree?

Reed: I believe that innocence should be a constitutional claim for the  simple fact that all courts in the United States -- according to the U.S. Constitution -- say that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.  Since all the Courts say we are presumed innocent [by constitutional law], then why shouldn’t it be a constitutional claim?

It’s different than me saying I’m innocent.  The courts say we are innocent. It should definitely be a constitutional claim since our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are at the mercy of the courts.

Ray: There have been two recent reversals in Texas death penalty cases based on Batson issues -- prosecutors preventing African Americans from sitting on the jury. You and several others also have Batson claims. How do you feel about prosecutors in Texas purposely keeping Blacks off juries?

Reed: It shows that the element of racism has never left the courtroom. Racism has been protected by the courts when it comes to the selection of jurors -- especially in capital cases when the defendant is Black and the victim is white. It’s wrong.

African Americans are just as important in our society when it comes to the process of our judicial system. They’re tax-paying citizens, hard-working citizens, who should not be overlooked because of the color of their skin, but should be looked at for the content of their character.

Ray: The head CCA Judge Sharon Keller is facing five charges concerning her abuse of authority by closing the court early, which led to the untimely execution of Michael Richard. What is your view on the situation with Sharon Keller?

Reed: It should give pause for everyone out there who has had some type of involvement with the criminal justice system -- because the fact is that she’s the highest jurist on the CCA. Her lack of integrity for justice should be scrutinized to the fullest because there are judges under her who don’t have the same power. You’d think the top judge would be held to a more stringent standard.

Ray: One of the biggest outcries of the death penalty is the lack of quality  representation in capital cases, due to 98 percent of defendants not being able to afford their own lawyer. Now Judge Keller is facing trial looking for pro bono help instead of hiring her own lawyer. If she has to pay for representation, she may go into debt. To you, what does that say about having to “afford justice”?

Reed: One of the major obstacles that a defendant in a capital case, facing the death penalty, must deal with is the lack of quality  representation. Usually a defendant, being poor and not able to afford his or her own attorney in Texas, will then be appointed an attorney by the very same court that wishes to prosecute. That attorney’s performance is only as good as his resources (i.e., money) allow. In most cases, the performance is slim, damn near nonexistent.

So now, Sharon Keller faces trial, and now she says it’s unfair because she can’t get the free representation that her friend and colleague offered her. The Ethics Commission says, “Judge, you can’t get a pro bono law firm, and any lawyer you get has to charge you 100 percent of their standard rates.” So what I think they’re saying is that she is able to afford her own representation and therefore should pay. I agree.

Ray: Is there anything you would like to say to the people, your supporters and abolition advocates?

Reed: Thank you for this time and opportunity to express some of my views. Realize when people come together collectively and organize on any particular issue, things can be done -- things can change.

For that change, there has to be organization.  Organize. Come together because we are still one.

To learn more about Rodney Reed and his fight for freedom, visit: www.freerodneyreed.org. To learn more about the AMITI Organization, spearheaded by death row inmates, visit: www.amitiworld.com 

Rodney Reed #999271
Polunsky Unit
3872 F.M. 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Ray L. Jasper #999341
3872 F.M. 350 South
Polunsky Unit
Livingston, TX 77351