Rodney Reed’s family has been at the forefront of a 17 year struggle to prove his innocence and win his freedom from Texas’ death row. Recently, Rodney’s mother Sandra, and brother Rodrick, sat down to talk with Lily Hughes about their disappointment in the courts, the need for DNA testing, and the pain of facing an execution date.
THERE’S A clemency process that’s already started, and we hope that you will have an opportunity to meet with the new governor, Greg Abbott, or perhaps members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to talk to them about why they should grant clemency. What you would say to the governor if you did get a chance to meet with him face to face?
Sandra: What we’ve been saying all along! Rodney is an innocent man. He was wrongfully convicted. He didn’t get a fair trial, and they used Jim Crow tactics to convict him. It’s not that they use Jim Crow tactics with every trial, but they used it with him.
We just want the new DNA testing. We want the truth. That’s all we’re asking. The only evidence that was presented was his DNA, and it was old. And you have nothing else–I mean nothing to link him to this case. How is it that you have enough merit to take a life–over old DNA? He was dating her!
There was a box of evidence that Judge Towslee ordered sealed–locked away. We never knew what that was until recently. Now, at this last hearing, there were two boxes when there should have been one, and they both were unsealed. That, to me, spells corruption. All I’m asking for is fairness. Give my son a fair shake. He never had a fair shake in the beginning. That’s all we’re asking.
And from my point of view, no matter what, you still shouldn’t take a life. Thou shalt not kill. What happened to the Ten Commandments? That’s all I have to say.
Rodrick: I would say to him that we just want to be treated the way he would want his own treated. We want the same thing he would expect if he were in our shoes. Fairness. Equality. We’re not asking for anything special. We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We’re just asking for what’s right.
Sandra: And if you have thousands of people out here who believe in him, what does that say? There is a shadow of a doubt…Twelve jurors were deceived. I still don’t know how they thought they had enough to do what they did, but I do believe they were deceived.
RECENTLY, AT a hearing here in Bastrop in front of the trial judge, he denied important DNA testing. And of course, there’s been a string of denials from the courts over the years, whether it’s the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals and, more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court. How has that affected your view of the court system and the way the criminal justice system operates?
Sandra: I’ve told people over the years that I was very naïve as far as the justice system is concerned. I thought that if anything went wrong, all we had to do was take it to court, because that’s what the United States stands for: fairness without a shadow of a doubt.
But when it came down to my son’s case and the hearing and the way the trial went, it just went plumb Jim Crow.
There were witnesses waiting to testify, but never called. They made me a possible witness for the prosecution and never called me. The judge denied the alibi witness from testifying. And sitting there during that process, there was nothing I could do. I had no knowledge of the law itself, I didn’t have the funds, and I was denied the ability to testify for my son.
It felt like I was chained and bound. There was nothing I could do but stand there and watch them railroad my son. Over these last years–17 or 18 years of fighting–I have to say: Thank god for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Because you guys know what’s going on and what happened to me.
You wouldn’t have known what happened to Rodney if you hadn’t been concerned about right and wrong, and what did happen. And I am a proud member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Traveling over the years, and speaking and meeting exonerees from death row and other family members speaking out–that encouraged me to keep right on fighting for my son. This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us.
They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake. And being Black, you have that mark against you. Looking back at Martin Luther King and how he fought for our rights, I thought, well, we have our rights now. But I realize we don’t. We never had equality.
AND THE courts have completely failed us.
Sandra: The courts have completely failed us. Right. Absolutely.
SO WOULD you say that winning justice from the system requires taking MLK’s route?
Sandra: It’s a hard row to hoe, especially when racism is still rampant. Things are better on the surface, but within, it’s still there, and it still hurts. It still affects people.
It’s undercover slavery. That’s what I feel. The government is building all of these prisons. Why? And most of the people are minorities. The justice they’re carrying out is legalized murder. Murder is murder.
Yet we’re willing to sacrifice our young men and boys to go over and fight for somebody else’s rights. And we don’t have our own backyard cleaned up? We’re killing our own. That’s what I got out of this–there’s no justice in this so-called justice system that we have.
Rodrick: There’s some justice, just us.
RODRICK, DID you have anything else you wanted to add about the courts?
Rodrick: Yes. I believe the courts are very, very misleading, because you think that justice will be blind and everyone should get a fair shake. But the reality is that if you don’t have the capital, you’re going to get the punishment. If you’re poor, you’re not going to get proper representation. If you’re mentally handicapped in any kind of way, you’re not going to get a fair shake, and that’s not right.
So the bottom line is that there’s a lot of work to be done in the justice system, and it’s not going to happen until we come together and use what we have to make it better. In cases like my brother’s case, once we bring him home–which I pray that’s the way it goes–then the fight keeps going. That racism, that injustice, that corruption is still there. And that’s the roots that we have to try to dig up.
SWITCHING SUBJECTS, I think that both of you have been down to see Rodney fairly recently, and we were wondering if you could talk about how he’s handling everything?
Sandra: I haven’t seen him since the hearing, because there have been other people, such as his sons, who have been visiting. I wanted them to have as much visitation as they could, because over these 18 years, he hadn’t seen his sons. When he was convicted, his sons were six or seven–maybe not even that old. But they’re now grown, and they have their own kids, so they’ve been visiting.
His granddaughter lives in California, and her mother put her on the plane, and her father picked her up in Dallas–and wow, they just had a wonderful, beautiful visit. Each visit was four hours. Monday, they got two visits in the same week for four hours, and I think that was wonderful.
So I want those kids to visit as much as they can, and other people who are in his corner and hadn’t seen him. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. He only gets a one visit a week, and so that makes it kind of tough. But he’s strong.
Rodrick: Yeah, he’s real strong. He’s real positive. You go down there with the expectation of trying to lift his spirits up, and…
Sandra: He lifts yours.
Rodrick: He lifts yours. And I think it’s all possible because of God, and all his supporters and friends and family who believe in him and support him. That keeps him strong, that keeps him positive, that keeps him going. If it had been me, I’d be crazy as a bug, but he’s strong.
Sandra: His support is strong, and his family, we’re right there with him. If he can just see our faces and see how strong we are, it keeps him strong.
Rodrick: We keep each other strong.
Sandra: He’s doing as well as can be expected. And of course, our faith is strong and I’m optimistic. Yet I have to face reality of how this justice system has treated my son over these 18 years, with the denial of everything. I’m hoping and praying. I can’t see how, with all of this information and evidence pointing to Rodney’s innocence, Greg Abbott would deny him clemency, but who’s to say?
THAT BRINGS me to my next question. How are you all doing? I know this is not an easy time, and it never is. What do you want to say about the death penalty, and the way it creates a whole new set of victims?
Rodrick: Myself, I’m tired.
Sandra: He’s tired. We’re all tired.
Rodrick: I’m tired, but I’m strong. I’m going to keep my strength, and I’m going to push on as far as I can and do all that I can do, and I’m going to let God do the rest. But I think that it’s very stressful. I’ve aged–I’ve got more gray hair and a face full of gray. It has an effect.
All in all, we’re good. And I know it will get better. We all have points where it’s like, how much more can we take? How many more denials? How many more years? How many more days?
Sandra: And on top of dealing with everyday life, I have six sons, and all of them have their issues. Their issues are mine, and I worry. Not as much as I used to when they was coming up. Now that they’re in their 40s and 50s—
Rodrick: Don’t tell them my age! (laughter)
Sandra: I’m telling mine accidently! But, you know, when it rains it pours. There’s going to be times where everything happens at one time. But we’re maintaining. It’s a struggle, but we’re maintaining. And me being the mother, words can’t even express what I’m feeling now at this phase. I could tell you but you wouldn’t really know.
Rodrick: The words can’t describe it.
Sandra: I can sit here and tell you right now how much I’m grateful to you guys, and the words aren’t enough.
Rodrick: They don’t even do it justice.
Sandra: Words can’t even express what I’m feeling. At this phase of the game, I’m strong. I’m optimistic. Knowing what this system has done to us, I can’t believe it until I see it now. I have to touch it now. So that’s the best I can do, but I’m praying to God that he gives me the strength to endure whatever.
Rodrick: Somebody told me yesterday, “I’m really proud of you for the work that you do for your brother. I think you’re doing a good thing. I’m so proud of you.” I looked at her and I said, “To be proud of me for doing something for someone that I love is not a big deal. What moves me is people who do something for someone they don’t even know–a stranger.”
That’s what gives me strength. When we have people like you who are not related, who didn’t even know Rodney, but you came in and you gave up your time and your money and everything you can give to help support us. Because it’s easy to do for someone that you love. Anybody does that. But to do something for a stranger who you don’t know even know–that says it all.
Sandra: But see, you’re God’s angels to me. I know we’ve discussed that before, but you are.
He assigned you, whether you believe in Him or not, to do this. It’s His work. Through you guys. Those petitions that we attempted to submit to the DA! Eleven thousand signatures!
AND NOW it’s over fourteen thousand.
Sandra: The signatures of people who we don’t know!
Rodrick: That’s what I’m saying. We have to be here. And if we’re any kind of good family and love our family, we have to do the things we have to do. But for all the hundreds and thousands of people trying to help us, that’s something to be proud of.
Sandra: Because if it was up to our family, we would be screwed, glued and tattooed!
THAT BRINGS us to the last question: Is there anything that you want to say to people who already support Rodney? What can people be doing right now that helps the most?
Sandra: What helps the most is do what you’ve been doing. I thank each and every one, the thousands and possibly millions of people that have viewed that documentary State vs. Reed and took an interest. I thank them all.
Rodrick: I thank you all, and I’m proud of you, because that’s doing something–when you’re in a situation where you don’t have to be, but you chose to be in it. You chose to be in this fight. You can sit down on the sidelines and watch it go down, but you said no. I stand up and I’m going to represent.
Sandra: How long have we been in this together? Fifteen years.
Rodrick: That means the world to me.
Sandra: And I love all of you.
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