In July 2019, Innocence Project client Rodney Reed, who had been on death row since 1998 for a murder that evidence suggests he did not commit, was given November 20, 2019 as the day Texas would execute him. Our goal was to humanize Rodney, a black man who has always maintained that he was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a white woman who he was romantically involved with, lay out the facts of Rodney’s innocence that were unknown at his first trial, and to mobilize our audience and influential people to pressure Texas to stop his execution.
We began building a base of supporters for Rodney over the years by having people send encouraging messages to him after the U.S. Supreme Court denied him DNA testing that could help prove his innocence. Once his execution date was set, we began the campaign with a clear goal—stop Texas from executing Rodney without first looking at new evidence of his innocence. The main components included: 1) Growing the base of support for Rodney through digital advocacy 2) Generating national and local media stories 3) Garnering celebrity support to amplify Rodney’s story. These three components were the foundation of the central call to action to have Texas residents call Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, two of the main entities who could ultimately stop his execution, if not stopped by the courts.
On November 15, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a 120-day reprieve for Rodney. Within the hour, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which had denied Rodney every attempt to prove his innocence, declared an indefinite stay of execution and granted him a hearing on the basis of innocence. The court's decision meant Rodney’s life was spared and he now has another chance to prove his innocence through an evidentiary hearing in September 2020 with millions of supporters behind him. The decision was unexpected and extraordinary because Texas has executed more people than any other state—568 people since 1978 including nine people in 2019 alone—even when there were credible claims of innocence. Despite the fact that 13 people have been exonerated from death row in Texas, only three have ever been pardoned. Rodney’s campaign sparked worldwide outrage and was heard by Texas officials—a rarity in this state’s criminal justice system.