Texas Execution Rodney Reed

RICARD BRAZZIELL/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN VIA AP

Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas. Supporters for Reed, who’s facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn’t commit, are mounting a final push in the courts and on social media to stop his execution.

The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — In his five years as Texas’ governor, Republican Greg Abbott has overseen the execution of nearly 50 prisoners while only once sparing a condemned man’s life, after a victims’ family asked him to do so.

But Abbott — who has proudly referred to the death penalty as “Texas justice” — has never confronted such intense pressure to halt a lethal injection like he is facing in the case of Rodney Reed, who is set to die this month for a 1996 killing despite new evidence that even a growing number of Republican legislators say raises serious questions about his guilt.

On Saturday, supporters of Reed are held their biggest protest yet outside the governor’s mansion, escalating a public campaign that now counts Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey among the celebrities who have urged Abbott to call off the Nov. 20 execution. So, too, has the European Union’s ambassador to the U.S.

Even Republican lawmakers who are close to the governor and have lobbied his office in recent days and weeks for a reprieve say they’re in the dark about his thinking.

“They said the governor has heard about it and is taking a very deliberative and thoughtful analysis,” Republican state Rep. Matt Krause said. “But they didn’t give me an indication one way or the other on which way he’d be.”

Reed, now 51, was convicted of raping and strangling 19-year-old Stacy Stites while she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.

Reed has long maintained that Stites was killed by her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black. In recent weeks, Reed’s attorneys have presented affidavits that support his claims, including one by a former prison inmate who claims Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur.

Reed’s lawyers say other recent affidavits also corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed. Fennell’s attorney has said his client didn’t kill Stites, and prosecutors maintain that they believe Reed is guilty.

Texas remains the death penalty capital of the U.S. even as executions nationwide hover at historic lows. Last year, about half of the 25 executions nationwide took place in Texas, which has put to death eight people so far this year.

Support for the death penalty has been declining in recent years, but in Texas, Abbott hasn’t relaxed his position. A practicing Roman Catholic, Abbott breaks with the church on the Vatican’s view that capital punishment can never be sanctioned, and efforts to scale back the types of crimes that carry the death penalty in Texas have stalled under his watch.

Only once has Abbott spared the life of a convicted killer shortly before the scheduled execution: Last year, he accepted a rare recommendation of clemency from Texas’ parole board and commuted the sentence of Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, who fatally shot his mother and brother. Abbott did so after Whitaker’s father, who was also shot, asked for mercy.

In a letter to Abbott this week, more than a dozen Republicans said that getting it wrong with Reed could “erode public trust — not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself.”

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