Rodney Reed was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday, but instead, he was granted the reprieve he and his legal team have fought for.
Reed claims to be innocent of the heinous crimes he was convicted for — the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Bastrop woman in 1996.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals indefinitely delayed Reed’s planned execution and sent his case back to the original trial court in light of new evidence, including eyewitness testimony that could potentially exonerate him.
Reed’s case has garnered national attention, including calls for a delay in the execution from prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle as well as celebrities.
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But if Rodney Reed is, in fact, innocent of the crimes he was convicted of he unfortunately would be far from alone in the State of Texas, according to criminal justice advocates.
"It’s fair to say that there are thousands of innocent people in Texas prisons," said Mike Ware, an attorney and the Executive Director and co-founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, a legal nonprofit that works to help free wrongfully convicted people.
According to the Innocence Project, a conservative estimate of the Texas prison population – which includes approximately 141,000 inmates serving various levels of ongoing sentences – would predict that about 4% of incarcerated people have been wrongfully convicted. That would mean that 5,640 innocent people are behind bars who should not be.
"It is a whole lot easier for the system to convict a completely innocent person than it is to exonerate an innocent person once they have been wrongfully convicted," said Ware, who also helped to found the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which is the first of its kind in the country.
Ware said that there are a multitude of reasons why an innocent person would be convicted of a crime that they did not commit, which include:
• A younger defendant
• A prior criminal history
• Prosecution withheld evidence
• Lying by a non-eyewitness
• Misinterpreting evidence at trial
• "Junk" science
The Innocence Project of Texas, which did not work directly on the Rodney Reed case, receives an estimated 100 letters from Texas inmates every month — an average of 1,200 every year — who claim that they are innocent. But the legal nonprofit estimates that it only takes up the cases of about three new inmates every year, due to the amount of work required to successfully fight for exoneration in any given case.