September 25, 2019
Rodney Reed asks U.S.Supreme Court to Halt Execution
by Chuck Lindell
for the Austin American Statesman
Lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed of Bastrop, who faces execution Nov. 20, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in his case Tuesday, arguing he has made a “comprehensive and persuasive showing” of innocence.
Complaining that the state’s highest criminal court dismissed new evidence of innocence in June after a perfunctory review, the appeal said the nation’s top court should step in “so that Texas does not execute an innocent man.”
“The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disposed of Reed’s constitutional claims challenging his capital murder conviction for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in a terse and largely boilerplate decision that referenced no legal authority,” the appeal said.
The appeal said the evidence used to convict Reed has been refuted or rejected — particularly the opinion of three scientific experts whose trial testimony linked Reed to the crime — and pointed instead to Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as the killer.
“Reed has disproven every aspect of the State’s case,” the appeal said.
The Supreme Court will decide in the coming weeks whether to accept Reed’s appeal, halting his execution, or let stand the Texas court ruling that rejected his innocence claims.
Bastrop County Criminal District Attorney Bryan Goertz, joined by lawyers with the Texas attorney general’s office, has rejected the contention that Reed is innocent.
In court documents, Goertz said Stites was happily engaged to Fennell and spent her last days planning for a wedding that would have taken place 18 days after she was kidnapped, raped and strangled about 3 a.m. while driving from the Giddings apartment she shared with Fennell to her job at a Bastrop grocery store.
Reed became a suspect after he was arrested in the kidnapping, beating and attempted rape of another 19-year-old woman about six months after Stites was killed near the route Stites typically took to work, also about 3 a.m., Goertz argued.
Now 51, Reed was 10 days from execution in 2015 when the Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a closer look at his claim that new evidence showed he did not kill Stites — including defense experts in forensic pathology who said Stites had been killed hours before she and Reed could have crossed paths, at a time when she was home alone with Fennell.
The new evidence also showed that Stites had not been raped and that the prosecution’s scientific experts were mistaken when they said Reed’s semen — identified in Stites’ body by DNA testing — was left around the time she was killed, Reed’s lawyers told the Supreme Court. Reed claims he and Stites were engaged in a consensual sexual relationship.
Reed has one other legal case pending, a federal lawsuit filed Aug. 8 in Austin arguing that his civil rights were violated because prosecutors and state courts have repeatedly denied his requests for DNA testing of crime scene evidence.
Arguing that the results could support Reed’s claims of innocence, defense lawyers want to test items that were probably touched by the killer — including Stites’ clothing, a name tag and two pieces of the woven belt used to strangle her — to determine if skin cells and other DNA-bearing evidence can be identified.
Reed’s lawyers also plan an appeal pressing his innocence claims with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.