Inmates’ Families March Alongside Those Wrongly Convicted at Death Penalty Protest
By Laura Miguel
Families of death row prisoners joined opponents of capital punishment for the 23rd annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty at the Texas State Capitol on Saturday.
“I’m here today, tomorrow and as long as it takes until we end this death penalty,” said Rodrick Reed, brother of Rodney Reed, who has been on Texas’ death row for 24 years. “Not just bring Rodney home, but to abolish the death penalty because it is cruel, inhumane and pure racist.”
Rodney Reed was convicted of the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. Questions have swirled around Reed’s conviction for decades, and his 2019 execution date drew new petitions from celebrities, state lawmakers and millions of others. The state’s parole board recommended that Gov. Greg Abbott grant a 120-day reprieve, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has put off his execution indefinitely. An appeal over the testing of DNA evidence in Stites’ death is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Saturday’s two dozen marchers chanted, “What do we want? Abolition. When do we want it? Now!” and “They say, death row, we say, hell no.”
“I do not believe in the death penalty,” said state Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston. “I have family members who have been murder and I don’t want whoever killed them to be put to death. How do you teach somebody not to kill by killing?”
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas had 199 death-row prisoners as of April 1.
Two members of Witness to Innocence, who are exonerated death row prisoners, spoke Saturday about being wrongfully accused of crimes they did not commit.
Ron Keine, who spent two years on New Mexico’s death row, was proven innocent after a law enforcement officer admitted to committing the crime nine days before his execution date. He was one of four men wrongfully convicted of the murder, kidnapping and rape of a University of New Mexico student in 1974.
“We were on death row before we even went into trial,” Keine said. “During our retrial, (the chief medical examiner) admitted that he lied and never saw the body. Some of the pictures he showed were from a completely different murder scene.”
Albert Burrell, who spent 13 years on Lousiana’s death row, had been sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of an elderly couple. His conviction, as well the conviction as a co-defendant, was discarded because of a lack of evidence and unreliable witness testimony used at trial.
Patricia Moralez, aunt of inmate Humberto “Beto” Garza, also attended the rally. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last year vacated Garza’s 2003 death sentence, citing ineffective defense counsel, but he remains convicted of murder for his role in a botched robbery that left six dead.
“The death penalty is not only on him; it is in all our family,” Moralez said. “Dealing with this has been hard.”
Delia Perez Meyer, member of Texas Moratorium Network, who also has a brother on death row, says the group understands what families are going through.
“As for the families, we do whatever they need to support them, from financial help to medical care,” she said. “We do whatever we can to help each other. We are really like a big family.”