U.S. Supreme Court reviews Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed’s DNA test bid

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices debated on Tuesday whether Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed was too late to file a lawsuit against state officials who had denied his requests for DNA testing of evidence at the crime scene. hoped to help exonerate him in his high-profile murder case.

Judges heard arguments in Reed’s appeal of a lower court ruling that his August 2019 challenge to procedures required by Texas law to allow prisoners access to evidence that could be DNA tested after conviction came after the expiry of a two-year limitation period.

Winning the civil rights lawsuit could open the door to allowing DNA testing sought by Reed. Reed argued that the law, as interpreted by Texas state courts, is fundamentally unfair in violation of the US Constitution’s due process guarantee.

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Reed, who is black, was found guilty by an all-white jury of the murder of a white woman in 1996. He argued he is innocent and DNA evidence would help prove it.

Judges in oral arguments on Tuesday considered Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone’s view that Reed should have at least filed suit within two years of a state appeals court’s decision in April 2017 against him. Reed’s lawyers said the statute of limitations should not have started until the appeals court denied his request for a rehearing six months later, in October 2017.

Conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch asked Stone about the difference between those dates.

“Why should we prefer your point of view?” asked Gorsuch.

Stone replied, “The rehearing did not change any rights and obligations under Texas law or the U.S. Constitution for Mr. Reed.”

Liberal Judge Elena Kagan countered by saying, “It’s just because the rehearing was denied. If a rehearing had been granted and the decision had been reviewed, that would have made a difference.”

Reed was convicted in 1998 of the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, who was found raped and strangled with her own belt along a road in Bastrop County in 1996. Authorities charged Reed after his semen was found inside the victim’s body. Reed said they had an affair.

He asked for DNA testing of some crime scene evidence, including the belt used for strange Stites, because “the killer’s hands may have left sweat or skin cells” on the items.

Reed’s lawyers and activists have worked to exonerate him, arguing that evidence uncovered since his trial instead points to Stites’ white fiancé, a local police officer, as the killer.

While various courts over the years have ruled against Reed’s attempts to have his case reconsidered based on what he called newly uncovered evidence, Reed has garnered public support, including from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Rihanna. Millions of people have signed an online petition supporting Reed.

In 2014, a lower court rejected his offer of DNA testing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also dismissed it in April 2017 based on procedures it determined were required under state law that gives prisoners the option to request DNA testing after their condemnation. This court rejected a request for a rehearing six months later.

Reed filed a lawsuit in federal court in August 2019. Last year, the New Orleans-based 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Reed should have sued in the two years following the original trial court decision in 2014.

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Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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