News Roundup: Rodney Reed, the Austin Marathon, and Council

Efforts to free Reed continue; Council talks housing

Rodney Reed
Rodney Reed (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In this week's News Roundup: Can any amount of evidence halt Rodney Reed's execution? Will Don Zimmerman be able to prevent an affordable housing development from being built in his district? ... and more unanswered questions.

Is Texas About to Execute an Innocent Man? If Rodney Reed gets a lethal injection* on March 5, it wouldn’t be the first time the state has executed a man whose guilt was in doubt. Although many believe former police officer Jimmy Fennell is responsible for his fiancée Stacey Stites’ 1996 murder, thus far it’s still Reed who’s on death row for the crime. On Thursday, as the Chronicle reported, Reed’s attorneys filed a petition for a retrial, arguing that new evidence about Stites’ time of death shows that Reed couldn’t have killed her. Reed’s supporters have been hard at work trying to call attention to the case: On Valentine’s Day, they brought valentine-themed signs to the governor’s mansion addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to “Have a Heart” and “Stop the Execution of Rodney Reed.” Yesterday, Feb. 15, famed death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, Reed’s brother Roderick, and Stites’ cousin Heather Stobbs all spoke at the Friends Meeting of Austin, arguing for Reed’s innocence. Tonight at 8pm, A&E will air “Dead Man Talking,” a two-hour special that details retired detective Kevin Gannon’s reinvestigation of the case for the channel’s true-crime series Dead Again. It was Gannon who first suggested Stites may have been killed before midnight, and not at around 3am, as was argued during Reed’s trial.

Defeated City Council candidate Laura Pressley is continuing with her efforts to challenge the results of the Dec. 16 run-off. On Sunday, she gave a presentation titled “Was Your Vote Counted?” in an attempt to drum up support for her lawsuit contesting the election. Check back with Newsdesk later today for a full report on yesterday’s gathering.

Unhappy Dukes: If you had any pressing business in central Austin on Sunday, during the busiest hours of the Austin Marathon, it probably didn’t get timely accomplished. Many streets between I-35 and MoPac were impassable or slowed by the race. Newsdesk hunkered down behind the Sunday papers and didn’t venture out until afternoon. Meanwhile, a few high-profile residents were particularly discomfited. Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, hoping to get down to the Capitol, was apparently on her last nerve, and posted the following around noon on her Facebook page:

"Kudos to the Marathon runners. I think it is admirable to run the distance and be healthy. But someone please tell me what the heck was the City and Facilities Commission thinking when they allowed every access point to the Capitol to be blocked during Legislative session? So.... for those of us who need to prepare with our staffs for Appropriation hearings that take place tomorrow morning at 7:30am have to wait until 6pm tonight to get into the Capitol building without inconvenience. One might say the Legislature should have prepared yesterday. However material packets and documents aren't ever available until the day before the hearings. To whom it may concern, thank you for pushing our work hours late into the night while everyone else will have President's Day off. Route decision-makers, ugh!..... Please THINK!!!! Feeling annoyed…"

City Council approved six affordable housing projects during last Thursday’s meeting, but the decision wasn’t without opposition. Council Member Don Zimmerman is doing what he can to prevent the Cardinal Point project from being built in District 6 - he’s argued the project would increase the area’s traffic problems; he delivered a legislative request to 17 Texas state lawmakers asking that “locally elected representatives [such as council members] be included in scoring subsidized housing projects”; he asked that the rest of Council defer to the opinion of the district’s Council member in development decisions affecting a particular district; he attempted to enlist Rep. Donna Howard, who represents the district, in opposition to the project (she demurred); and, as the Austin Monitor reported, “he said, since more people rejected the [housing] bonds in 2012 than voted in favor of them in 2013, he considered them to have been rejected.” Despite those efforts, Council voted 9-1 (D8 CM Ellen Troxclair abstaining) to approve a forgivable loan to Foundation Communities to develop the project. Since the loan is conditioned upon the award of tax credits by the state, there’s still time for Zimmerman to prevail upon the Legislature to reject the project.

Council also voted unanimously to postpone a resolution that would allow Mayor Steve Adler to augment his staff using private funds. For more on both Cardinal Point and the mayor's proposal, look for this week's issue of the Chronicle.

*Correction: this passage originally cited in error "the gas chamber"; the state of Texas executes by lethal injection.

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