New Clemency System can turn Twenty Years of Injustice into 20 days

Clemency is the most powerful tool in our criminal justice system. In the right hands, it would only take 20 days to render justice with a new clemency process. Under current law, it is not unheard of that an innocent person can spend more than 20 years to receive justice. Just ask Texas inmate Rodney Reed.

Texas inmate Rodney Reed — Photo: AP

21st-century criminal justice and prison reform demand the power of clemency to take on a bigger role in the fight for justice and the fight against American injustice.

Many elected officials have used clemency/pardons to forgive, right a wrong, or for humanitarian reasons from the beginning of this great nation. But unfortunately, the power to pardon has often been misused to the point elected officials are using it as a loop-hole to help a buddy to escape justice.

If the founding fathers intended it to be this way, my bad, if not, we need a new clemency system in every state of America.

Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott had until November 20, 2019, to stop the scheduled execution by lethal injection of Rodney Reed.

Thankfully, NBC News has reported, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals put Reed’s scheduled execution on hold indefinitely five days before the execution. But there are many other deserving inmates to spare from a life of criminal injustice.

Reed’s saga began in 1998 after his conviction of the brutal 1996 rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. But strong evidence, the Free Rodney Reed petition which has gathered 3 million signatures and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian suggests, Reed did not commit the crime. So why did the State of Texas allow Reed to sweat up until five days before his execution when the growing amount of evidence suggests he should not even be in prison?

Sure, loved ones of the victim may be satisfied with the outcome of the 1998 verdict. They, too, deserve justice. But the victims should not get the last say on justice. Truth should. And elected, or appointed officials should not stand in the way of truth, to give artificial justice to the families of these victims.

Stacie Stites 1995 graduation — photo: David Kennedy AAS Staff

Gov. Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, which consists of 7 board members and 14 commissioners, dragged their feet despite the many voices calling for his release. Among those ignored, as reported Nov. 8, 2019, by the Houston Chronicle are, “26 state representatives — 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans, including several members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — called for Reed’s execution to be delayed, at least.”

The list of exculpatory evidence is long. But common sense suggests, at least, test the murder weapon for DNA. Reed’s appeals have rejected this reasonable request. Furthermore, the fact, an all-White jury might have questionable judgment dealing with a Black man who had a consensual relationship with this White woman is a red flag. But to ignore the evidence that pointed to the original suspect, Jimmy Fennell, Ms. Stites’s fiancé at the time she was having an affair with a Black man, is an ear-piercing red siren to holt this scheduled execution.

Fennell, a former police officer, convicted of kidnapping and having improper sexual contact with a woman he took into custody, is now a free man. He served ten years in prison for that crime, which happened after the rape and murder of Stites, who he learned was having an affair with a Black man.

Common sense or 21st century DNA technology to set the record straight could take 20 days, not 20 years, to give an innocent person his or her life back. Therefore, it is time for a change in who should control clemency, pardons, and or exonerations.

I came up with the idea of a new clemency/pardon process while watching the well-respected news magazine “60 Minutes” in the year 2000. I call it California Clemency Boards. Since then, I have realized this new process has more power than I first envisioned, including the possible modification to be used in any state or even federal use.

Sreenshot: 60 Minutes/Steve Kroft

The 60 Minutes episode was about California’s first version of its “Three Strikes Law,”; originally aired May 7, 2000. At some point, journalist Steve Kroft, ask then-Governor Gray Davis to justify a 25-year-to-life sentence handed down to Steven Bell, who stole a bicycle, as his third strike. In my opinion, the governor failed in his attempt to justify such a harsh sentence. But my outrage gave birth to a solution to this kind of injustice.

California passed its first Three Strikes Law in 1994. But more than 3000 prisoners were caught up in this draconian law before the California voters amended it in 2012.

Clemency is the most powerful tool in our justice system. But political and judicial forces currently control the power to grant clemency/pardon. In other words, in the wrong hands as I see it.

So, I did a little research on the subject, and soon discovered by reading California’s Constitution; a Constitutional Amendment could cause a change in the law, for who should control this power. Therefore, I embarked on what I created and called “California Clemency Boards” … aka California Clemency.

My reasoning was, if an inmate could take his or her case to a clemency board for review, the result would be a lot less of these draconian or unjust sentences.

A modified version of “California Clemency,”; for the state of Texas, could have bypassed the bureaucracy that has kept Rodney Reed in prison for two decades.

Individuals could take their case to a streamlined clemency process for review post-conviction if overzealous prosecution forced the issue. For instance, in the case of Reed, a pre-screened panel of no more than five well-compensated citizens looking over the same exculpatory evidence that Gov. Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardon and Parole refused to examine more closely could have rendered a decision in 20 days.

There are many Rodney Reed’s in our criminal justice system, along with others fighting different types of criminal injustice. Some you can only pray for, but others, I hope California Clemency to be a part of their answered prayers.

I will be spending all the year 2020, not trying to open the eyes of people who get it. My mission for 2020, will be to educate as many as possible on how the power of clemency can be used safely as a comprehensive answer to real criminal justice and prison reform anywhere in America.

A more detailed view of my new clemency process is available at CaliforniaClemency.org. My slogan: “Power to the People to Pardon People.”

It is high time Americans take a closer look at this tool’s power to reduce the time to free an innocent person from prison or be used to correct many other acts of injustice in America.

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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