Rodney Reed, who has been on death row in Texas for 22 years for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, has been granted an indefinite stay of execution, as well as a new trial and new judge.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution on November 15. The appeals court also ruled to send the case back to trial court in Bastrop County to hear Reed’s claims that he has new evidence that proves his innocence. His lawyers have said that prosecutors at the time suppressed evidence and presented false testimony.
Reed has consistently maintained that he did not kill Stites, a young White woman with whom he had been romantically involved at the time of her death in Bastrop, Texas. His case has received worldwide support, including the European Union and several celebrities: Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, Kim Kardashian, and Rihanna, to name a few.
“The European Union regrets that the State of Texas plans to execute Mr. Rodney Reed on November 20th and makes an urgent appeal to @GovAbbott or clemency on his behalf. Evidence in Mr. Reed’s case casts substantial doubt as to his culpability,” tweeted the European Union.
On November 4, Rihanna shared a petition, which obtained over 1.5 million signatures as of November 6 calling for a stay and a new trial. Her tweet gained 17,100 likes and 9,100 retweets in two days.
Reed’s case has been taken on by the Innocence Project. Since his trial, according to the Innocence Project, substantial evidence exonerating him and implicating Stites’ then-fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a former local police officer, has come to light.
The Innocence Project has compiled a list of key facts about his case:
- This case was racially charged. Reed, a Black man, was found guilty of murdering Stites, a White woman, by an all-White jury.
- A confession by Fennell has come to light. On October 29, 2019, Arthur Snow, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood and Fennell’s prison mate, disclosed that he had confessed to murdering Stites, stating, “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée,” in a conversation.
- Renowned forensic pathologists, including Michael Baden, M.D., Werner Spitz, M.D., LeRoy Riddick, M.D., and Cyril Wecht, M.D., have all concluded that Reed’s guilt is medically and scientifically impossible. The prosecution’s only forensic evidence linking Reed to the crime was semen taken from Stites’ body, which was attributed to the consensual relationship between them. The prosecution used this to connect him to the murder and refuted their consensual romantic relationship, but the testimony supporting this theory has since been recanted, completely discrediting the State’s case.
- Reed and Stites were having a consensual sexual relationship. At the time of the trial, no one came forward to corroborate their relationship. But today, new witnesses, including Stites’ own cousin and co-worker, have corroborated Reed’s claim that they knew that he and Stites were romantically involved.
- The murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence. Requests for DNA testing of the crime scene evidence, including a belt that was used as the murder weapon, have been repeatedly denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
- The State’s three forensic experts have admitted on the record to errors in their testimonies, which led to Reed’s conviction and death sentence. The three forensic experts from Reed’s original trial have since submitted affidavits stating that Stites’ original time of death is inaccurate, which makes the prosecution’s timeline of Reed allegedly killing her implausible.
- For months after the murder, Fennell, Stites’ fiancé, was the prime suspect in the case. A recording of one of the police investigators indicates that Fennell was suspected of Stites’ murder, and he was believed to be motivated by her relationship with another man.
- Fennell later served a 10-year prison term for a sex crime and kidnapping. Law enforcement records also document his having a pattern of violence against women.
- Fennell’s best friend at the time of the crime, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, has now revealed that he gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder. Fennell had told his friend he was out drinking on the night Stites was murdered. But he later stated he was with Stites in the apartment they shared during what we now know was the actual time of her death, based on Dr. Michael Baden’s updated testimony, which contradicts his initial claim.
- Two witnesses have recently come forward and submitted signed affidavits that add to the mounting evidence against Fennell. These affidavits include testimony from an insurance salesperson who stated that Fennell threatened to kill Stites while applying for life insurance. The second witness was a deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the murder to whom Fennell made an alarming and incriminating statement regarding Stites’ body at her funeral.
—Information provided, in part, by The Innocence Project.