The View From Death Row
Next week's scheduled execution, plus the latest on the Rodney Reed case
On Oct. 10, Jonathan Marcus Green is slated to be the next victim of Texas' machinery of death – and the 487th inmate executed in the state since the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Green was convicted and sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Christina LeAnn Neal, who disappeared near Lake Conroe, in Montgomery County. On June 21, 2000, Neal reportedly stormed out of a friend's house where she was supposed to be spending the night; her parents found out the next day, but, because she'd run away previously, they didn't report her missing until two days later. A week later, after finding Green's wallet near the spot where they believed Neal had disappeared, police searched his house, but nothing was found. Police returned in mid-July after a neighbor reported Green had an unusually large burn pile around the time Neal disappeared. They searched the property, but when they began to dig near an area of disturbed earth, Green kicked them out. They returned later with a warrant and found a shallow grave in the backyard; Neal's body was wrapped up and hidden behind a recliner inside the house.
Green was scheduled to die in 2010, but his execution was stayed over concerns that he was not competent to be executed; Green has been diagnosed schizophrenic, including by doctors who work for the state prison system. But those doctors were not called during an evidentiary hearing. Green's lawyer James Rytting says that Green's due process rights were violated because he was denied an opportunity to present evidence that would prove he's not sane enough to be killed. Rytting says Judge Lisa Michalk gave lawyers just two days to prepare for the hearing, barely enough time to get Green's Wisconsin-based witness to Texas, and not enough time to subpoena any additional witnesses. Rytting also argues that the judge had an improper conversation with prosecutors after the hearing and allowed the state to write the order concluding that Green is competent. Indeed, during the hearing itself, Rytting says that Green was hallucinating, and Green testified that "demons" controlled his actions.
Rytting has filed an appeal in federal court seeking to halt Green's execution.
Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel has rejected death row inmate Rodney Reed's argument that he should reverse a magistrate court's earlier decision to deny Reed's most recent appeal. That means Yeakel has agreed with federal Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin that Reed has been unable to prove he'd had sex with Stacey Stites prior to her death in 1996. If he can't prove a prior affair, then the DNA found in her connects him to her in death, the courts have ruled.
According to the state, Reed, on foot, overcame Stites as she drove to work from Giddings. No evidence inside the truck connected Reed to the crime, but DNA found in her body led investigators to conclude Reed was responsible for her death. Reed's supporters have long argued that her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, was a more likely suspect; Fennell is now serving time in prison on charges that he kidnapped and sexually assaulted women while on duty as a cop in Georgetown.
At trial, then-Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo testified that the sperm found in Stites were intact, meaning she had sex not long before death. But further evidence refutes that conclusion: Sperm can remain intact for days, experts say. Even Bayardo has since stepped up to reverse course, agreeing that the sperm could have been deposited some days before Stites' death.
To Reed's defense, that is entirely the point: If the DNA were deposited earlier, it would be evidence of an affair. (The defense has additional experts who have agreed and have concluded that there is no evidence that Stites was raped. Although Reed's lawyers have asked for an evidentiary hearing to allow witnesses to explain this to the court, that request has not been granted.) In his Sept. 26 ruling, Yeakel concludes that Bayardo's new affidavit is "extremely suspect," and that just because Bayardo says the semen could have been deposited sooner doesn't mean that it was. In the end, Yeakel concludes that there is "no credible evidence" that Reed and Stites were having an affair before her death, and that without that evidence there's no reason to believe that Reed is actually innocent.
Reed's defense has filed a motion asking Yeakel to reconsider his ruling. If that fails, they'll appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.