Rodney Reed was scheduled to be dead by Thanksgiving. After sitting on death row in Texas for over 20 years, his death sentence was suspended indefinitely. Reed was arrested in 1996 for the murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old woman. The key piece of evidence tying him to the crime was the semen, appearing to match Reed’s, found in Stites’s body. He maintains that the two of them were in a consensual sexual relationship, but at the time of his conviction, no witnesses came forward to corroborate the statement. However, Reed’s lawyers say someone has recently backed up Reed’s claim of a consensual sexual relationship with the victim a claim that should lead to a new trial. Moreover, his lawyers say that Stites’s fiancé at the time, Jimmy Fennell, a former police officer, admitted to the crime while imprisoned for kidnapping and rape of a different woman in 2008. In addition, the District Attorney’s office has refused to test the murder weapon, a belt, for DNA. Examples of convictions where there still exists some doubt as to whether the defendant is guilty, such as Reed’s case, demonstrate that the death penalty is an immoral, expensive and biased form of punishment. 

Cases like these rise to prominence every few years: Someone who has been sitting on death row for an extended period of time tries as hard as possible to be heard when they say they are innocent. The media tends to report it as the date of execution draws closer, petitions for a new trial circulate the internet and the accused sits in his cell (it is almost always a man, as only 54 of the almost 2,700 people on death row are women), wondering if he will be granted a new trial. The complications surrounding the death penalty make it so problematic that it should be abolished. 

Even if someone supports the death penalty on moral grounds, they may support its abolition because of how expensive it is. In Pennsylvania alone, estimates put the cost of the death penalty at more than $350 million

Judges tend to be more sympathetic in hearing appeals of death penalty cases than in most other cases. The majority of cases in which the prosecution seeks the death penalty do not end in capital punishment. The ones that do go through a lengthy appeals process, during which many of the sentences are reduced to life without parole. This means that most of the death penalty cases will end with the same ruling as life without the possibility of parole, but the process will be far more expensive due to an appeals process and draw resources away from areas where they could have more of an impact. These extended processes, however, are necessary for the death penalty to continue because of how serious such cases tend to be. One of the greatest risks in any trial is the possibility the accused is actually innocent, but those stakes become exponentially higher in death penalty proceedings.

Capital punishment is also biased in its sentencing because it is disproportionately used against African-American defendants. More than half of the current death row inmates are people of color. In the early 20th century, when it was most used against people accused of rape, 89 percent of the defendants were Black. Moreover, in the 38 states that still use the death penalty, 98 percent of the prosecutors are white. That means white people are deciding that Black lives should end at a higher rate than white lives. Capital punishment, therefore, worsens the inequality of an already discriminatory system. Such disparities are unacceptable in a country that bases its criminal justice system on the idea of equality under the law. The death penalty is also unequal gender-wise. The vast majority of people on death row are men, and defendants are almost seven times more likely to be handed a death sentence if the victim is a woman. 

That brings us back to Rodney Reed. He has fought tirelessly to get a new trial, and was lucky enough to receive it. Regardless, the high costs and problematic enforcement of the death penalty means it should be abolished.

Joel Weiner can be reached

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