On November 20th the State of Texas plans to execute Rodney Reed for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. In 1998 Reed was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Bastrop County. DNA evidence found on Stites was the only way investigators connected Reed to the crime. However, Reed testified that he and Stites were in a casual relationship, and the two of them had had consensual sex the night before her death. Witnesses have now corroborated Reed’s relationship with Stites.
A mounting pile of evidence implicates Stites’ former fiance, Jimmy Fennell, in the murder. Fennell, a former police officer, was the primary suspect for most of the investigation. Fennell’s truck and pieces of the suspected murder weapon were found in a parking lot near where Stites’ body was found. Courts have refused to test the suspected weapon for DNA evidence, however. Three forensic experts, all who testified for the State, have submitted testimonies saying that the original time of death, three o’clock in the morning, is inaccurate. Fennell’s own testimony places him with Stites at midnight, the likely time of her death. One witness, who occasionally worked with Fennell, recalled a time when Fennell threatened to kill Stites if she ever cheated on him. Fennell also has a documented history of commiting violence against women, and in 2007 was sentenced to ten years in prison for kidnapping and raping a woman.
In the past few weeks, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, and Dr. Phil have called attention to Reed’s case, amassing public support. The bipartisan Texas House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus is the most recent group to push Texas Governor Greg Abbott to grant a reprieve. In a letter addressed to Gov. Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, twenty-six legislators ask for Gov. Abbott and the Board to uphold justice and grant Reed more time in light of new evidence.