Rodney Reed was scheduled to be executed on November 20, more than two decades after the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop. Reed, a black man, was convicted of the murder in 1998 by an all-white jury, and as the date of his execution has drawn closer, his case has united people across the political spectrum. Everyone from Ted Cruz to Kim Kardashian West has called on his execution to be halted in light of new evidence, witness testimony, and his consistent claim that he’s innocent. On Friday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—the highest court in the state on criminal matters—issued a stay in Reed’s execution, requiring the trial court to consider the new evidence.
As the clock began counting down to the November execution date, it had been unclear how Texas would respond. But Friday was an extraordinary news day for a case that seemed to drag on forever. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a recommendation for a reprieve earlier in the day, urging Governor Greg Abbott to halt the execution for 120 days to allow for DNA testing of the murder weapon, which was not done during the initial trial, as well as for Reed’s attorneys to file additional appeals. Such reprieves are rare. Between 1992 and 2013, Texas governors granted only six—and Abbott has granted clemency only once, in the case of Thomas Whitaker last year. (Abbott’s two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, also each granted clemency in one death row case.)
There was no indication which way Abbott was leaning by the time the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled a few hours later. Nonetheless, the court’s decision took the matter out of the governor’s hands. The stay in Reed’s case is at least the twelfth such reprieve ordered by the court in the past two years. (In at least one case—that of Juan Castillo—the state later carried out the execution, after the lower court didn’t change its ruling.)
All of which is to say that we don’t know what will happen to Rodney Reed, even as the trial court considers the evidence discovered since his initial conviction. But for now, this is a huge moment for Reed, his family, and even the Texas death penalty. While Reed’s case continues to play out in the courts, November 20 will come and go without the state taking his life.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Stacey Stites’s name.