Why is it difficult to change one’s mind?
Stacy Stites was 19 years of age when she got engaged to a fellow white man named Jimmie Fennell. Jimmie was a policeman in a neighbouring town, who claimed his love for Stacy was more than the love he had for himself. Stacy not long after being engaged to Jimmie fell in love with a black man called Rodney Reed. She got so fond of Reed that she no longer wanted to marry Jimmie. Stacy was a sale agent for a grocery store in their little Bastrop town. Nonetheless, on April 23, 1996, Stacy who was always the first to come, didn’t show up at work. A few hours later, she was found dead. Her body was found dumped on the side of a road out of Bastrop, in a small town roughly a half-hour distance from their neighbourhood. She was partially clothed and lying face up, her arms above her head. They were several marks on her neck and this led investigators to conclude that she had been strangled with a leather belt. The truck she drove that day was found abandoned. The last piece of evidence found was sperm that was collected inside her.
The murder went unsolved for nearly a year until the investigators tested the recovered sperm DNA against the 29-year-old Reed. The DNA matched and that formed the basis of the prosecution’s case. No other evidence tied Reed to the murder, except what was found within her. The DNA was the “Cinderella’s slipper,” prosecutors argued at trial. To that effect, Rodney Reed was arrested. When he was initially questioned by police, Reed denied knowing Stacy, but he later admitted to having an affair with her, that explained the presence of his DNA. He admitted that they both had sex a day before Stacy was found dead.
Why did he hesitate on admitting he knew Stacy? Many sources say it is because Reed is black, Stacy was white and engaged to a man named Jimmy Fennell, a white.
While in court, Reed had various witnesses lined up who could testify to the relationship, but most of them weren’t brought to the bar. The raison d’être behind the denial to allow them testify was that the witnesses were all related to Reed. Those who did testify in the end weren’t particularly effective; one woman referred to Stacy as “Stephanie” when recounting meeting her at Reed’s family house. Among the witnesses who weren’t called up, were at least two who said they knew about the affair and that Fennell had found out about it & threatened Reed. At the end of the trial in 1998, the 29-year-old Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Reed hasn’t been executed yet, he has appealed several times but the courts have vehemently refused to reverse their verdict. However, reassessing the trial makes one notice that it had serious problems. Reed’s conviction has left open a number of questions about what happened to Stacy. Why would the murderer of Stacy be Reed and not Jimmie?
As the years have passed, the case has become even more disturbing. There is medical and forensic evidence that has been brought to light. There are now several witnesses some within Stacy’s family, who have come forward to say they were aware of the relationship. The murder weapon (leather belt) has not been tested for DNA. None of Reed’s fingerprints was found on the truck Stacy was driving. The only thing that ties Reed to Stacy’s death is the DNA found in her. During the trial, experts told the court that sperm couldn’t possibly survive for so long. Instead, the version they brought up was that Stacy must have been raped shortly before being murdered. That was enough for the all-white jury to convict and sentence Rodney Reed to death.
In addition to that, Jimmie Fennell, Stacy’s to be husband has exposed several dark sides of his life. One of them is the fact that he raped a lady placed in his custody. This landed him a ten-year prison term – which he served until he’s released on the 10th of March 2018. More evidence has surfaced out by his former bosses, and colleagues on his troubling behaviour before, during and after Stacy’s death. Some of that information should have been made available to defence lawyers before Reed’s trial but wasn’t.
The final piece of the puzzle are the courts. They have repeatedly given a blind eye to the body of evidence challenging Reeds conviction. On the 26th of October 2019, they declared that Reed wasn’t going to receive any other hearing. Hence, the verdict to execute Mr Reed on the 20th of November 2019 is final.
Can anything be done? Why is it so difficult for judges to change their minds? If you were in the judges shoes would you consider changing the verdict? Especially now that many loopholes have been pointed out.
Why is it difficult even for you to change your mind?
Let us run a thought experiment on what you consider to be morally wrong. I will ask you 3 simple questions, and all you need to do is answer them.
Question 1: A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They once heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner. Nobody saw them do this. Did they do anything morally wrong?
Question 2: A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it. Is what he is doing morally wrong?
Question 3: Julie and Mark are sister and brother. They are travelling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a little room they rented. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least, it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love but decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. Is what they did morally wrong?
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist ran this thought experiment with his students, strangers and supervisors. The common thread of responses he received were: “they are all morally wrong”. If you are an African, I presume the 3rd question is the one you can’t even consider – but let us revisit the question once more as Haidt would suggest: “Do you think it is acceptable for two consenting adults, who happen to be siblings, to make love?” If you are like most people in his studies, you will immediately and automatically answer NO. But how would you justify that response? I’m sure your response will be that incestuous sex leads to offspring that suffer genetic abnormalities. Haidt will then point out that they both used two sets of birth control and there is no way pregnancy can ensue. At this point, no one (you included) will say “Oh well, I think I was wrong, since they can have offspring, it isn’t wrong”. Instead, most people begin searching for other arguments, for example, “It’s going to harm their relationship” to which Haidt will point to the line that states that in this case, it instead made their relationship stronger. At this point (you)/the person against, still wouldn’t fold, no, he/she will instead scratch their heads, frown, and say, “I know it’s wrong, I’m just having a hard time explaining why.”
Imagine yourself climbing a mountain, it takes you difficult calculations and thinking to get there, you see the top and at 90% of the journey, you realise you took the wrong path. What do you do, do you turn back, go down the mountain and start the journey afresh? or do you stay there and rationalise how you can move from there? Most of us live our lives on the latter option. Which explains in part the reticence of those judges.
21 years later, what fresh evidence has been brought up on the Reeds Case?
- The state’s three forensic experts have admitted and even sworn on record to errors in their testimony. They have submitted affidavits (a written statement which someone makes after they have sworn officially to tell the truth, and which might be used as proof in a court of law) that sperm can last longer than they thought back then. They added that the original time of death is inaccurate, making Reeds killing implausible.
- Stacy Stites’ cousin and co-workers have corroborated Reed’s claim that they all knew he and Stacy were in a romantic relationship. He was convicted for rape because no one attested to their relationship, today, the number of witnesses are so many.
- Jimmie Fannell’s best friend at the time of the crime Bastrop’s Sheriff Curtis Davis has revealed that Jimmie gave an inconsistent account of where he was the night of the murder. He originally claimed he was out drinking with friends, a claim he later contradicted by saying he was in his apartment with Stacy at the time of the murder.
- Two insurance salesperson have confessed that Jimmie threatened to kill Stacy while applying for insurance.
- Finally, a confession by Jimmie came to light on October 29, 2019. Arthur Snow, Jimmie’s former prison mate disclosed a conversation he had with Jimmie. In this conversation, Jimmie confessed he murdered Stacy Stites “ I had to kill my n**** loving fiancée”.
Who then is guilty?
What else do the judges want? Hundreds of Rodney Reed supporters have been protesting in front of the governor’s mansion to call for a stay of execution. Celebrities like Rihanna, Beyoncé, T.I. and Kim Kardashian have called out for the release of Rodney Reeds but all these calls are given deaf ears.
Imagine you were in Rodney’s shoes, what would you do? Rodney says “All he has is faith” and each and every one of us who can pray, scream, write, tweet or upload anything to make an innocent man free. After 21 years of prison, he has just 8 days left for him to be executed.
As you come to the end of this piece: please Pray, Tweet, Comment here or Do anything that can contribute to the freedom of Rodney Reeds.
Leslie Micheal Ace