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Michelle Beckley, Texas Representative for District 65, speaks to attendees during the Denton Chamber of Commerce quarterly membership luncheon at the Gateway Center on June 14 in Denton. 

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, asked Gov. Greg Abbott to halt the execution of Rodney Reed, the death row inmate whose murder conviction faces criticism from a broad range of lawmakers and celebrities.

Beckley sent a letter to Abbott’s office on Tuesday. In it, she asked the governor to put his support behind further DNA testing and a new trial for Reed, whose execution is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Reed, who is black, was sentenced to death in 1998 after an all-white jury convicted Reed for the murder of Stacey Stites, who was white, in Bastrop, east of Austin. Two decades later, questions on whether any forensic errors occurred in the investigation persist. And new testimony from people who knew of Stites’ fiance at the time, Jimmy Fennell, asserts that Fennell, who is white, could have been the killer because he was incensed that Stites and Reed were having an affair.

Beckley, speaking to the Denton Record-Chronicle on Wednesday, said she wants all of this to be reviewed. An opponent of the death penalty, Beckley said this is not about whether the capital punishment is right or wrong. She said asking the governor for a reprieve is more about ensuring the criminal justice system functions exactly in these life-or-death cases.

“We cannot put a man to death with this many questions,” Beckley said. “We need to make sure that he is guilty. Because it is the death penalty, that does make the weight much greater.”

In her letter to the governor, Beckley quoted him, saying, “ ... in 2013, you supported a bill for pre-conviction DNA testing, saying, ‘Texans may disagree about the death penalty, but one thing all Texans can and should agree upon is that no innocent person should be executed in Texas.’”

There is no doubt a movement in support of Reed. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian are on the same team as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in calling on Abbott to stop the execution, or at least delay it while the case is revisited. Republicans and Democrats alike say the case needs more probing. The significance of the bipartisan support is not lost on Beckley.

“As a person who has been attacked for their policies, I think it’s very important we take the partisanship out of this,” Beckley said. “There is no question, if [Abbott] doesn’t intervene, then he is 100 percent wrong.”

Last year, Texas put 13 people to death. A total of 25 people were put to death across the country, making Texas the most prominent death penalty state in the nation. There are about 215 death row inmates in Texas. Abbott has only stopped one execution out of the 47 that have occurred since he took office.

“I think we are running out of time,” Beckley said of the Reed case. “I would like for the governor to do what he needs to do.”

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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