AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In his five years as Governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott has overseen the execution of nearly 50 prisoners while only once sparing the life of a condemned man, after the 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.
The now 51-year-old Reed was convicted of raping and strangling 19-year-old Stacy Stites in 1996 while she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.
He has long maintained his innocence, insisting that Stites was killed by her fiancé, former police officer Jimmy Fennell.
Reed, who is black, claims Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with him.
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.
The attorneys say other recent affidavits also corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed.
Fennell’s attorney has said his client did not kill Stites and prosecutors maintain that they believe Reed is guilty.
Reed is scheduled to be put to death on November 20, despite the new evidence which a growing number of Republican lawmakers say raises serious questions about his guilt.
Supporters of Reed are planning their biggest protest yet outside the governor’s mansion today, escalating a public campaign that now counts Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey among the celebrities who have urged Abbott to call off the execution.
So, too, has the European Union’s ambassador to the United States (US).
It’s unclear, though, if the public pressure is making any impression on Abbott, who was a law and order state attorney general before he was elected governor.
He has not spoken publicly about Reed’s case.
Even Republican lawmakers who are close to the governor and have lobbied his office in recent days and weeks for a reprieve say they are in the dark about his thinking.
“They said the governor has heard about it and is taking a very deliberative and thoughtful analysis,” said Republican state Rep. Matt Krause.
“But they didn’t give me an indication one way or the other on which way he’d be.”
Texas remains the death penalty capital of the US, even as executions nationwide hover at historic lows.
Last year, about half of the 25 executions in the US took place in Texas, which has executed eight people so far this year.