Update: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stays execution of Rodney Reed

Just hours after the the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Rodney Reed, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Reed an indefinite stay of execution. According to the Innocence Project, “the CCA has ordered the claims of Brady violations, false testimony and actual innocence in Mr. Reed’s case back to the trial court. This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence.”

Read more from the New York Times and Texas Tribune.

(earlier post)

Today, Friday, November 15, 2019, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Rodney Reed.  Reed is scheduled to be executed on November 20 despite substantial evidence of his innocence. Texas Governor Greg Abbott can accept or reject the board’s recommendation.  The board’s recommendation is not binding.

Since 1982, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended clemency in only five cases where the inmate faced imminent execution. Then-Governor Rick Perry rejected two of those recommendations and allowed the executions to proceed.  Governor Abbott has stopped one imminent execution since taking office in 2015. On February 22, 2018, he accepted the Board’s unanimous recommendation of clemency for Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, who was scheduled to be executed that same day.  It was the first such commutation in Texas since 2007.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected Reed’s request for his sentence to be commuted to a lesser penalty but did recommend Governor Abbott grant a 120-day reprieve, which would stop the execution. Reed also still has several legal challenges pending in state and federal courts, including a petition considered earlier today by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background on the case

On November 20, 2019, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Rodney Reed for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. Reed was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Bastrop County in 1998. 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 estimated 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 he was sentenced to ten years in prison for kidnapping and raping a woman.

Over 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 case has attracted bipartisan support from elected officials, as well. According to the Texas Tribune, “more than half of the Texas Senate, at least 45 state House members, a U.S. senator and several congressmen from Texas have publicly asked to stop Reed’s upcoming death.” In their appeals to Gov. Abbott, legislators have asked him to uphold justice and grant Reed more time in light of new evidence.