No Way Out? The Rodney Reed Affair [UPDATED!]

Rodney Reed was convicted by a Texas jury in 1998 and sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites two years earlier. On April 23, 1996, Stites’s body had been found on the side of a country road outside of Bastrop, Texas. Marks on the woman’s  neck led investigators to conclude that she had been strangled, and she had had sexual relations with someone before she was killed.

Police tested the recovered DNA against that of Reed, then 29 years old.  There was no other evidence tying Reed to the murder, other than the fact that he initially lied to police, claiming that he didn’t know the victim. Finally, Reed said that he was having a sexual affair with her, and that the two had sex a couple of days before Stites was found dead. The witnesses Reed’s defense called to confirm the relationship between the two were not convincing, for varying reasons. It didn’t help Reed’s cause that he was regarded as a serial sex offender, with many arrests on his record.

As The Intercept explains in detail, the case against Reed has deteriorated over time, and was never strong to begin with. Many forensic pathologists have concluded that the verdict lacked scientific support. The medical examiner who conducted Stites’s autopsy has recanted his testimony. In 2018, both a state crime lab and a private DNA lab undercut the testimony of their own employees who had testified at Reed’s trial.  Nonethless, Reed is scheduled to be executed in five days, on the 20th of November.

The new evidence indicating that he was wrongly convicted has not been reviewed by a court and apparently will not be because of the judicial principle of finality, the very old concept that hold that legal disputes at some point achieve a resolution that cannot be appealed and must be regarded as final. The principle is deemed necessary because without it, the public could not trust in the meaning of any law, or the result of any legal process. It is a utilitarian principle: individual cases may have unjust results occasionally, but the system as a whole benefits from the certainty of finality.

When the finality principle will result in the execution of a someone who appears to have been wrongly convicted, however, the gap between law, justice and ethics is difficult to accept.  The Supreme Court will consider Reed’s case today. There is also a plea to Abbott and to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to intervene.

The ABA has also made an appeal to the Board, via a letter from American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez.  Continue reading

Worst Anti-Gun, Anti-Gun Violence Activist Ever

The one thing I can admire in activists, even those whose agendas I find wrong-headed and irresponsible, is integrity. Are they genuinely passionate about what they advocate? Do they really believe the arguments they put forth? Will they adhere to their stated principles even when it becomes profitable or convenient to reject them? I may think an activist is ill-informed, addicted to demagoguery and not very bright (Rep. Octavia-Cortez comes immediately to mind), but I will always, perhaps grudgingly, appreciate his or her passion, dedication, and persistence, if they are accompanied by integrity.

And then we have activists like Ashley Auzenne, 39, a Texas mother who fought for stricter gun control laws and an end to gun violence until last week, when she used a gun to kill herself and her three young children,  Parrish, 11, Eleanor, 9, and Lincoln, 7.

I think it’s fair to call someone who says she wants to  to end violence (Auzenne’s Facebook profile pictures were accompanied with the hashtags #Enough and #EndGunViolence) and then engages in it herself a hypocrite, a liar who publicly pretended to hold one view while personally being capable of engaging in the exact conduct she condemned when it suited her own perceived needs.

Perhaps, on the other hand, we should regard her as the real life equivalent of the villains in various TV shows and movies like 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” the third installment of the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” franchise. In that movie, a tech whiz who had failed in his efforts to persuade the government that crucial systems were vulnerable to hacker attacks sets out to prove his point by becoming a cyber-terrorist who takes control of government and commercial computers across the United States to launch a “fire sale” disabling  the nation’s infrastructure. Continue reading

The Paul Storey Death Sentence Mess

In 2008, a Texas jury found that Paul Storey (left) had murdered Jonas Cherry (right), and the prosecutor, Christy Jack, told the same jury deliberating on the proper punishment,  “It should go without saying, that all of Jonas’s family and everyone who loved him believe the death penalty is appropriate.”

Storey was indeed sentenced to death by the jury’s vote. Cherry’s family, however, opposed the death penalty, and said they always had. In 2016, they issued a video reaffirming their principled objection to executions,

Responding to the video, one of the jurors, Sven Berge,  made a  sworn statement in 2017 stating, “Had I known that Jonas Cherry’s parents were opposed to Paul Storey receiving the death penalty, I would have never have voted for death.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, upon a writ of habeas corpus filed by Storey’s lawyers, stayed Storey’s impending execution and   ordered Judge Everett Young  to investigate whether Jack’s statement  had affected the jury’s decision. After a three-day hearing, he ruled last year that ProsecutorJack’s statement  was improper and prejudicial, because it constituted prosecutorial misconduct “to interject the wishes of the victim’s family for the jury to return a verdict of death.”

Not only that, Judge Young also found that the Jack’s statement to the jury was false. This meant that the judge rejected testimony from  Jack defending her claim that the family wanted Storey to die. She had testified under oath that Jonas Cherry’s father approached her during the trial to say he had changed his mind about opposing the death penalty. The judge recommended that  Storey’s death sentence be reduced to life without parole.

As if that wasn’t enough to confuse things, a Texas appeals court, in a 6 to 3 ruling, has held  that new evidence about the prosecutor’s apparent falsehood did not justify reducing Storey’s sentence, not because a lie sent him to Death Row, but because defense lawyers waited too long to raise the issue and should have been more diligent in seeking Cherrys’ views on capital punishment. One of the dissenting judges, In Judge Scott Walker objected to the opinion’s assertion  that  lawyers should to “go prying into the private feelings of a murder victim’s family without a very good reason for doing so,” other than beginning with the presumption that “prosecutors misrepresented the truth or even lied.”

As it stands now, however, Storey’s execution will proceed.

What’s going on here? Continue reading

Now THIS Is Child Abuse—So Why Is A Texas Jury Enabling It?

That’s James’ father with him on the left, and his mother, after dressing James as “Luna,” on the right.

A jury in Dallas, Texas jjust ruled against Jeffrey Younger,  who is trying to stop his son’s’ mother, Dr. Anne Georgulas,  from “transitioning” him—his current name is James–into “Luna,” a female. Dr. Geogulas now can start the boy on puberty blockers and eventually cross-sex hormones.

Eleven of the twelve  jurors rejected James’ fathers petition to be granted sole conservatorship over his two sons. In this bitter custody fight, he argued that his ex-wife is “transitioning” James against the boy’s will.

I neglected to mention that James is seven years old. He cannot meaningfully consent to being chemically and eventually surgically transformed into a female at that age. It is astounding that this is legal in Texas or anywhere else. It is child abuse. It is an abuse of parental power. It is abuse that political agendas and cheerleading from the popular culture is inflicting on innocent children without adequate research or cause. Continue reading

Observations On A Cruel—But Funny!—Political Joke

“Humorists have been scared out of the business by the touchiness now prevailing in every section of the community. Wherever you look, on every shoulder there is a chip, in every eye a cold glitter warning you, if you know what is good for you, not to start anything.”

—P.G. Wodehouse, 1956

I just saw this Wodehouse quote today (Pointer: Jay Nordlinger on Instapundit), and sure enough, a joke controversy came in through the bathroom window.

The Texas Tribune Festival, an annual gathering of political and media figures in Austin,  included a panel on urban activism. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt complained that the Republicans running the state government opposed any measure on the environment—even, she said, local tree ordinances. Then springing the punch-line following her own set-up, she said, “Governor Abbott hates trees because one fell on him.”

The overwhelmingly Democratic crowd laughed. I did not know, but apparently Texans do, that at 24 Abbot was paralyzed from the waist down , when  a tree blew over on him while he was jogging on a windy day in Houston in 1984.

Predictably, however, there was at least one person who witnessed this who was not amused. John Daniel Davidson, the Political Editor at The Federalist, was on hand, and tweeted the line and the identity of its creator out to his followers. Some Texas legislators and publications picked up on it, Judge Eckhardt was contacted and asked about its appropriateness, and soon she was issuing an apology,…

As usual in such episodes, the apology was not enough.  The Texas Tribune piled on, writing about the comment and adding details about Abbott’s accident. Its conservative readers unanimous condemned the judge, variously calling her apology insincere, vicious, cruel, and mandating her resignation. The attendees who laughed were pronounced equally detestable. The Tribune quoted Travis County Republican Chairman Matt Mackowiak , who went full “How dare you?”:

“Judge Eckhardt apparently believes that his disability is open to ridicule if it helps her make a political argument. This joke represents a profound lack of compassion from Judge Eckhardt. There is no place for insulting Americans with disabilities and Judge Eckhardt should know better.”

Davidson closed his article by pronouncing the incident as a  telling one… Continue reading

The Constitution, Law, Rationalizations And Ethics—One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, I: The University Of Houston Steals A Photo

Two recent cases illustrate how law and even Constitutional law can be perverted toward indefensible ends if compliance is the only objective, and ethics are left out of the equation. The first case comes to us from Texas, University. of Houston System .v.Jim Olive Photography.

Houston photographer Jim Olive  discovered during an online check of his copyrighted works that the  University of Houston had appropriated one of his photographs and was using it extensively in its  web and print promotional materials. It was an overhead, aerial image of the City of Houston at dusk in 2005 that Olive went to great expense and effort  to produce.  He rented a helicopter, hired a pilot, and utilizing special photography equipment, suspended himself from the helicopter with a harness.

The university admired it, and found the shot ideal for its purposes, so it  downloaded the photo from Olive’s stock library, removed the copyright markings, and did not credit him when they used it. Olive sent the school a take-down letter and a bill, and the university refused to pay. Then he sued, but the university responded  that it has sovereign immunity, and can’t be sued, because he isn’t a citizen of Texas. The Eleventh Amendment reads in part,

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

The photographer had no right to sue under the U.S. Constitution unless the school waived its sovereign immunity or the act of using the photograph constituted a “taking” of property, the University’s lawyers  argued. When the trial court sided with Olive, the University appealed.

The Court of Appeals has ruled against Olive, declaring  that the school’s actions wasn’t a “taking.” Not only can’t Oliver sue to be paid for the use of his photograph,  he will have to pay the university’s legal costs.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” says Olive.  I’d say his instinct is accurate, but this is the law: fairness is beside the point. To make the ruling even more disturbing from an ethics perspective, the University has a page on its site directing readers to  report copyright infringements – and also to request permission to use UH intellectual property, like the photograph it stole from Jim Olive,

Nice. Continue reading

More Dark Thoughts: How Do You Make This A More Ethical Society If Our Institutions Encourage The Opposite Of Ethics?

If I’ve learned one thing from writing this blog, it’s that I have no ability to make what I believe are the most important posts the most read. I regard this post, from yesterday, an important post, and the story an important ethics story, though it is being handled as trivia by the non-local news media. Here’s another one that shows that frighteningly few commentators are sensitive to what the real ethical issues are in current events.

The headline says it all… “San Antonio leaders, residents outraged after former mayor Lila Cockrell isn’t allowed to vote.” Continue reading