Attorneys in Death Row Prisoner Appeal Demand Audiotapes from Controversial Evidentiary Hearing

Credit…Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

By Alexis Rios-Jimenez

AUSTIN, TX- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has received a request from death row prisoner Rodney Reed’s attorneys to compel the release of the audiotape from the Evidentiary Hearing in the 21st Judicial District Court, according to a defense statement.

The request comes following Judge J.D. Langley’s apparent refusal to release the audiotape, raising concerns over material contained in the unreleased tape, the statement said, noting the evidentiary hearing in question took place in July 2021 and addressed Reed’s “prosecutorial misconduct, false testimony, and actual innocence claims.”

As part of the evidentiary hearing, the district court was tasked with making “credibility findings about the more than 40 testifying witnesses,” said attorneys for Reed, placing a particular focus on this important responsibility given to the district court, and stating it had essentially copied the Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law provided by the state.

Furthermore, they explain the district court concluded “every single witness called by the State was credible and every single witness called by Mr. Reed was not credible … This especially defied logic because most witnesses called by Mr. Reed were either former law enforcement or friends or former co-workers of the victim, people who had no motive whatsoever to help Mr. Reed.”

The defense added, “Judge Langley refused to allow the public to listen or watch the hearing – without any explanation – even though courtroom recordings and live streams have long been common in Texas courts and have become even more prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

According to the statement, Judge Langley also “denied Mr. Reed’s request to have the court reporter’s audio recording of the hearing made part of the record before the CCA.”

Judge  Langley has been fiercely criticized in his handling of the case, particularly by Reed’s attorneys.

In court documents they state the trust given to the district court “to make reliable and independent credibility determinations and render impartial findings of fact and conclusions of law supported by the developed record” did not happen. In the court’s apparent failure to do so, the attorney’s assert, “the district court entirely abdicated its role as an impartial fact finder.”

Commenting on the case, one of Reed’s attorneys, who is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, Jane Pucher, said, “What is Judge Langley hiding? Why is he afraid of the CCA hearing this tape?”

Described in the statement, Reed, a Black man born Dec. 1967 in the state of Texas, has been on death row for the last 24 years for the murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman with whom Reed was having an affair.

Stites was found dead near a high school in Bastrop County, Texas on April 23, 1996. She had been engaged to Jimmy Fennell, described in the statement as a “white police officer who was abusive and violent toward Ms. Stites.”

Following DNA evidence linking him to Stites, Reed was made the focus of the murder investigation culminating in the issuance of his death sentence in 1998.

Since his initial conviction, Reed has been assisted by a team of attorneys who have worked to secure him multiple stays of execution.

According to the statement,  Reed’s attorneys have “filed another Request for Grant of Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the 21st Judicial District Court in Bastrop County and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which stated that prosecutors illegally hid yet more evidence for 24 years that could have exonerated Mr. Reed.”

The application is awaiting a decision at the Criminal Court of Appeals.

About The Author

Alexis Rios-Jimenez is a recent graduate from California State University, Los Angeles where he majored in Political Science with an option in Pre-Legal Studies as well as a minor in Communications. He currently works for a personal injury law firm as he prepares to go to law school to become a civil rights attorney. Alexis is actively involved in his community, representing the 57th assembly district in the democratic party as a Delegate.

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