The American justice system should be on death row. With each day that innocent people await execution for crimes they did not commit, the very institutions meant to ensure justice become engines of inequality and inhumanity.
Rodney Reed, who maintains his innocence to this day, is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas on Nov. 20, 2019 for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites in 1996. His case proves the sheer inadequacy of capital punishment in the United States, and his state-sanctioned death would further erode a system that has been injected with injustice. It’s long past time for Texas to set Reed free and for the U.S. to abolish the death penalty.
According to Reed’s defense attorneys, new evidence based on expert testimony exonerates Reed and implicates Stites’ fiancee Jimmy Fennell, a Bastrop County police officer at the time of the murder who was later convicted of and imprisoned for kidnapping and sexual assault. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Reed’s motion to review this evidence, and prosecutors filed to schedule his execution date shortly thereafter.
The new evidence that Reed’s defense wants reviewed could be damning, but not for Reed. Last year, the medical examiner in the case retracted his testimony as three highly credible experts found even more support for the theory that Fennell raped and murdered Stites. Despite these developments, prosecutors seem unconcerned with revealing the truth. Instead, they appear more committed to killing a man from whom they have already robbed 20 years of freedom.
There is something cruel and unusual about scheduling the death of another human being. It defies logic by giving humans the power of gods. When you add to that the shadow of doubt cast by inconsistent testimony and exculpatory evidence, even the thought of setting a date of death seems unconscionable. This shadow of doubt looms large over Rodney Reed’s current predicament.
Even more cruel and unusual is the frequency with which executions go wrong. About 3 percent of the more than 8,700 executions in the U.S. from 1890 to 2010 were botched. Lethal injections have been the most unreliable method of execution, as 75 out of 1,054 went wrong, and they are the most popular option among states with death penalties today. A life-to-death system that demands perfection but is riddled with the inconsistency of compromised executions cannot stand in a country that supposedly guarantees freedom from cruelty in the administration of justice. Failed attempts to properly execute people are nothing more than preventable instances of torture. That we cannot even guarantee that Reed will not writhe in pain and die slowly as witnesses watch should tell us enough about the absurdity of capital punishment.
While botched executions present a problem for death penalty advocates, even the slightest possibility that a person being put to death did not commit the crime should render the entire death penalty system cruel, unusual, null and void. The Death Penalty Information Center now identifies at least 16 people executed in the past 30 years as “Executed But Possibly Innocent.” Since 1973, 166 people on death row have been exonerated. Even if the punishment is ruled to fit the crime, the remote chance that the prosecution got it wrong and the accused could lose their life as a result confirms that this process is irreconcilable with U.S. law.
Another fatal flaw of the death penalty is that it isn’t racially neutral, as race undeniably plays a role in death penalty prosecutions. The U.S. prison population is 33 percent African American, compared to 12 percent of the total U.S. population. Meanwhile, 30 percent of prisoners are white, though almost 65 percent of the country’s population is white. The skewed race numbers carry over into death penalty statistics: 34 percent of death row inmates are black and just 55 percent are white. The numbers regarding victims in death penalty murder cases also points to racial bias. Even though 50 percent of murder victims nationwide are white, 75 percent of murder victims in death penalty cases are white. The American legal system values white lives the most. Thus, people like Rodney Reed are already at a disadvantage come sentencing just because of the color of their skin. Racism has greatly tarnished the criminal justice system in America, and our capital punishment apparatus further confirms this sinister reality.
Supporters of the death penalty justify the broken system as a crime deterrent, but no study has either confirmed or rejected a link between capital punishment and deterrence. Proponents of the death penalty may also point to the institution’s retributive nature, claiming the punishment fits the crime. The pursuit of justice in America is the pursuit of retribution, but punishing murder with death is vengeful and hypocritical. It is illegal to murder someone as an act of vengeance, and the government should be no exception.
Is the death penalty not against everything we as Americans should stand for? It stuns me that we continue to let our legal institutions sanction the killing of Americans even as this very system continually reaffirms its own inadequacy. I call on every person with a heart, mind and any good conscience to sign the petition to stand against Rodney Reed’s execution and fight the death penalty until it is abolished.
Jake Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Ga.