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The US Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a man sentenced to death in Texas in 1998 can use DNA evidence to try to secure his exoneration.

Rodney Reed, a 55-year-old Black man, was convicted for the killing of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman. Reed has consistently proclaimed his innocence in the years since, and his appeals have drawn national attention and bipartisan support from Texas legislators.

Over the years, however, state courts have rejected Reed’s claims of innonence. At the Supreme Court, the state argued that Reed had waited too long to challenge the state’s DNA procedures in federal court. But the Court, in a 6-3 decision, disagreed — clearing the way for Reed to try to use new DNA evidence to make his case for freedom in a federal court.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Coney Barrett, and Elena Kagan. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

DNA evidence was the backbone of the case against Reed. He was charged with Ms Stites’ murder after sperm found in her vagina and saliva found on her chest were matched with Reed’s DNA. There was no other physical evidence linking Reed to the crime, but a jury with no Black members convicted him of murder anyway.

Reed maintained throughout the trial that he was having a consensual sexual relationship with Ms Stites. No one would corroborate that story at the time, but in the years since, Ms Stites’ cousin and a co-worker have said they were aware of the relationship.

What’s more, a belt found next to Ms Stites’ body that was used as the murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence. Reed’s legal team maintains that it should be, and that the test can exonerate their client.

The possibility of testing the belt for DNA is at the centre of the case that made its way to the Supreme Court. Reed’s team claimed that the state’s statute of limitations on the performance of DNA tests on evidence is unconstitutional and that he should have been able to begin the federal appeals process after his state appeals process was exhausted rather than when his initial request for DNA testing on the belt was denied.

Reed’s date of execution was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2020 shortly after a bipartisan group of legislators appealed to Gov Greg Abbott. A number of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, and Meek Mill, have also campaigned for Reed’s life, as has the Innocence Project.

Reed’s legal team has long claimed that Ms Stites’ fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a former police officer who at one point served a jail sentence for sexually assaulting a woman in his custody, is a prime suspect in the killing. Mr Fennell has denied any involvement.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

This content was originally published here.