US celebrities join online campaign to save Texas death row inmate


Washington (AFP)

Nearly 60,000 people, including Hollywood celebrities Kim Kardashian and Susan Sarandon, are petitioning for clemency for a death row inmate in Texas who is set to die in three weeks for a crime he says he didn't commit.

Rodney Reed, a 53-year-old African American, was sentenced to death in 1998 after being convicted by an all-white jury of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman.

"How insane!!!! New witness comes forward that Rodeny was NOT the murderer!!!! He is set to be executed Nov 20th," Kardashian, the reality TV star, tweeted on Thursday, slightly misspelling the inmate's first name.

Although traces of Reed's sperm were found in the victim, he has always claimed innocence, maintaining that he and Stites were secretly having an affair at the time of her death.

Reed's lawyers believe that evidence obtained after the trial points to another suspect -- the victim's fiance, Jimmy Fennell, a former policeman who later served a 10-year prison sentence for another rape.

"The strong evidence exonerating Mr Reed and implicating Fennell continues to mount," they wrote in a clemency petition Wednesday asking the state's governor, Greg Abbott, to commute Reed's sentence to life in prison.

In the document, they include several testimonials on their client's behalf, including that of a former co-worker of the victim who confirmed that Stites was having a secret affair with Reed.

According to another affidavit filed with the petition, a former prison inmate said he heard Fennell brag during a prison yard conversation about committing the murder that Reed was convicted of.

"Jimmy said his fiancee had been sleeping around with a black man," said Arthur Snow, the former inmate.

Fennell through his lawyer has long denied involvement in his fiancee's murder.

Reed's lawyers also have filed a petition with the US Supreme Court, seeking a stay of execution.

Separately, an online petition posted by death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean and the Innocence Project has gathered 60,000 signatures, asking that the Texas governor show clemency.

Their efforts have been highlighted by television talk show host Doctor Phil and Sarandon, who won an Oscar in 1996 for her role as Sister Helen in the movie "Dead Man Walking."

"Rodney Reed is innocent but Texas is going to kill him on November 20th," Sarandon wrote on Twitter.