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Rodney Reed’s lawyers ask to withdraw execution date citing new witness testimony

October 6, 2019

Austin’s KXAN reports that Rodney’s lawyers filed a motion this Friday requesting a withdrawal of Rodney’s execution date, citing new evidence.

picture by Blaine Young for the Daily Texan

“According to The Innocence Project, two new witnesses have come forward with information they say supports the idea that Reed is innocent of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop. They say the new witnesses provide evidence connecting Stites’ former fiancé Jimmy Fennel to her murder.

The first witness is a life insurance salesperson who claimed Fennell threatened to kill Stites while she was applying for life insurance.

The salesperson said his company would frequently rent out lodge halls for events and would hire outside security. He said Fennel was often part of the hired security teams. The man said he met Stites on several occasions when Fennell would work security. The witness claims while filling out a life insurance application Stites made a joke about not needing life insurance because she was so young, to which Fennell replied, “If I ever catch you messing around on me I will kill you and no one will ever know it was me who killed you.”

The witness said he attempted to contact Reed’s lawyers in the early 2000s about his experience with Fennell, but was not able to get in contact with the right people. He claimed he did not come forward earlier because he thought Reed was going to be exonerated.

In 2015 after seeing continuing media coverage about Reed’s execution date the witness said he sent letters to both Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas AG Ken Paxton about his interaction with Fennell. He said he also wrote a similar letter to Judge Doug Shaver, who presided over Reed’s case.

The second witness is a Lee County sheriff’s deputy who said Fennell made an alarming statement at Stites’ funeral. The deputy claims during the service for Stites after her murder he was in the viewing room with Fennell. He said he distinctly remembers Fennell looking at Stites’ body in her casket and saying “you got what you deserved.”

The deputy claims in the affidavit he would frequently think about what he heard Fennell say, and said he would not be able to live with himself if he did not come forward.

The Innocence Project claims the new evidence shows a violation of Due Process under the 1963 Supreme Court Case Brady v. Maryland, since it could not have been discovered or presented in Reed’s previous pleadings.

Reed’s legal team has reached out to the Bastrop County District Court to withdraw Reed’s Nov. 20 execution date so the new evidence can fully be investigated.”


Week of Action in Austin for Rodney Reed: Rally to Face the Forensics


Rally to Face the Forensics: #StopTheExecution of Rodney Reed
Monday, September 30 – Friday, October 4, 2019, 4:00 – 7:00 PM
Texas Governor’s Mansion, 1010 Colorado St, Austin, TX
https://www.facebook.com/events/1508585969281204/

Please join us for a week of peaceful protest to STOP the execution of #RodneyReed. Rodney’s execution date is scheduled for November 20, 2019. We must continue to demand that Gov. Abbott and the State of Texas stop the execution and grant the DNA testing and day in court that Rodney deserves! With that said, we’re respectfully taking our fight back to the Governor– at his house, the Texas Governor’s Mansion!

We will meet everyday in front of the Governor’s Mansion from 4pm-7pm. On Friday, October 4th- the final day of protest for this week- we will head to the Texas State Capitol from the Governor’s Mansion around 4:45pm to hear from various speakers who are actively supporting the fight to stop Rodney’s execution, to ensure he is granted DNA testing of all the crime scene evidence including the murder weapon itself, to ensure he is granted a fair retrial where all of his witnesses including Dr. Michael Baden are called, and for him to be FREED!

All evidence implicates #JImmyFennell in the murder of #StaceyStites and that he had help from friends who were fellow members of law enforcement.

Please join us to send a loud and clear message to Texas officials including Greg Abbott at the Office of the Governor Greg Abbott, Bastrop County DA Bryan Goertz, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals :
FACE THE FORENSICS: RODNEY REED IS INNOCENT!
#STOPTHEEXECUTION
#TESTTHEDNA
#FREERODNEYREEDNOW!

We will have shirts for sale at the rally for $15. All proceeds from the shirts fund the rally itself and our journey across the country to amplify Rodney’s story from Los Angeles to Columbus, OH, to New York City to Washington DC to New Orleans and potentially two other cities,

The Innocence Project brings Rodney Reed’s fight to the Supreme Court: “Evidence supporting Reed’s innocence is uncontradicted and undeniable”

Innocence Project fears Texas may execute Rodney Reed, an innocent person

By Innocence Staff

Innocence Project Files Petition with U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Rodney Reed, who has been on Texas death row for over 20 years

(September 24, 2019 – Washington, D.C.) Today, lawyers for Rodney Reed, who is scheduled for execution on November 20, 2019, filed a petition to the United States Supreme Court challenging the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ unexplained rejection of critical evidence of innocence in his 1998 conviction for the murder of Stacey Stites. 

This petition asks the United States Supreme Court to review new and comprehensive evidence of innocence that both negates the State’s case against Reed, and confirms the police investigator’s initial suspicions of Stites’s fiancé, a local police officer named Jimmy Fennell.  The petition also asks the Court to correct constitutional errors created based on the discovery that (1) Fennell did not give a consistent account of where he was on the night Stites was murdered and (2) all of the State’s expert witnesses who supported the State’s theory that Reed raped and murdered Stites have withdrawn or modified those opinions.  

“I fear the State of Texas may execute an innocent man.” Benjet

“The evidence supporting Reed’s innocence is uncontradicted and undeniable, and without the Supreme Court’s intervention, I fear the State of Texas may execute an innocent man,” said Bryce Benjet, Reed’s lawyer and senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

The State’s medical examiner Roberto Bayardo, M.D., whose testimony connecting Reed to the murder was the lynchpin of the State’s case and was repeated to the jury in response to a question, has now retracted his trial testimony.  Instead, Dr. Bayardo now believes the forensic evidence corroborates Reed’s consistent defense that he and Stites were involved in a discrete sexual relationship, and that they were together about a day before Stites’s death. Moreover, renowned forensic pathologists Werner Spitz, M.D. and Michael Baden, M.D., have concluded without contradiction, that the State’s theory of Stites being raped and murdered within a two-hour period is medically and scientifically impossible.

In addition to the comprehensive proof of innocence, the petition focuses on evidence further supporting Bastrop investigator’s pursuit of Fennell as a suspect in the murder. Specifically, long-time Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, who testified at a 2017 hearing that he spent the day with Fennell (his best friend at the time) on April 23, 1996, while police were looking for Stites after she failed to show up for a 3:30 a.m. work shift. Officer Davis recounted that Fennell told him that he had been out the night before drinking with other police officers, and that Fennell stayed out late so not to disturb Stites. This story was entirely different from what Fennell told police investigators and at trial, which was that he and Stites spent a quiet evening at home.  

When Fennell was called as a witness at a 2017 hearing to explain these drastic differences in his story of where he was at the time Stites was murdered, Fennell refused and asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The petition highlights that Fennell’s inability to give a straightforward account of the very hours the forensic experts now understand Stites was murdered, supports that “Fennell lied about the events that occurred the night of April 22, 1996, to his best friend Officer Davis, the police and, later, the jury.”

Today’s filing also alleges that Reed’s constitutional rights were violated by the use of invalid scientific evidence to convict.

Today’s filing also alleges that Reed’s constitutional rights were violated by the use of invalid scientific evidence to convict. The state’s three forensic experts (or their employing agencies) who tied Reed to the murder have now admitted to scientific errors in their testimony that were central to Reed’s conviction.

“In cases of similar errors by the FBI crime lab, prosecutors and the courts have correctly stepped in to make sure criminal convictions are not secured with invalid science,” said Benjet. “Especially in a case where there is already powerful evidence of innocence, we are asking the Supreme Court to address the grave harm when criminal convictions and even death sentences are obtained with invalid scientific evidence.

Throughout the post-conviction investigation, the state’s case has been deconstructed and invalidated by Reed’s defense team. In June 2018, they filed an Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus before a Texas court that included candid admissions of error and affidavits from the same expert witnesses who were called by the state at Reed’s 1998 Bastrop County murder trial. This now-recanted expert testimony provided a crucial link between Reed’s DNA and the murder and was used to refute Reed’s long-maintained insistence that he is innocent of the crime, but was involved in a consensual sexual relationship with Stites.

“In cases of similar errors by the FBI crime lab, prosecutors and the courts have correctly stepped in to make sure criminal convictions are not secured with invalid science.”

Additionally, renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D. also testified at a hearing in 2017 that the condition of Stites’s body rendered the state’s theory of Reed’s guilt impossible. Where the state argued Stites was killed between 3-5 a.m. on April 23, 1996, the evidence showed that Stites was actually killed before midnight on April 22. Baden’s testimony was corroborated by two other leading experts and uncontradicted by the state.

In the 20 years since Reed’s trial, there is extensive evidence that both exonerates Reed and implicates Fennell. New witnesses have come forward, including Stites’s cousin, who was aware that Reed and Stites were romantically involved. A co-worker of Stites has also described a conversation with Stites only weeks before her murder in which Stites confided that she was sleeping with a black man named Rodney, that she was concerned what would happen if Fennell found out, and that she had to “be careful.”

Years after the murder, Fennell plead guilty to kidnapping and another sex crime arising out of charges that he kidnapped and raped a young woman while Fennell was on patrol as a Georgetown Police officer. He was released last year after serving a 10-year prison term for a sex crime. 

Reed is represented by Benjet; Andrew MacRae of Levatino Pace PLLC; and Cliff C. Gardner, Robert A. Weber, Michelle L. Davis, Nicole A. DiSalvo,  Juliana R. van Hoeven of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

Rodney Reed asks the Supreme Court for Justice

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.

The Economist on Rodney Reed: Evidence ‘may cast doubt on the validity of Mr Reed’s conviction’

September 23, 2019

The Economist has published an article on Rodney’s case, outlining the facts that have so many questioning Rodney’s conviction. They conclude with:

“But the most distressing flaw of capital punishment is well illustrated by the uncertainties in Mr Reed’s story: the risk that the state may execute innocent people”

Also, Filmmakers for Justice has published Part 2 of their “A Plea for Justice” series. “A Credible Witness” highlights the testimony of Alicia Slater, Stacey Stites’ coworker. Ms. Slater claims that Stacey was not excited about marrying her fiance and that she was seeing someone else.


New Coverage of Rodney’s Case

September 19, 2019

Following the recent tweets by activist Sister Helen Prejean, The Guardian has published a new article on Rodney’s case. They note that after the Innocence Project filed a civil rights lawsuit in Texas courts last month, Rodney’s case has caught the attention of the Texas state representative Vikki Goodwin.

Additionally, there are new videos to watch and share. Check out Part One of the series below.

Stop the November 20, 2019 Execution of Rodney Reed!

August 12, 2019

The State of Texas has once again failed to provide justice for Rodney Reed. Earlier this summer, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Rodney’s latest appeal. The day after Rodney’s family was featured on the front of the Bastrop Advertiser, Bastrop DA Bryan Goertz asked for an execution date for Rodney. Judge Doug Shaver granted the motion, setting the execution date for November 20, 2019.

Rodney Reed is innocent! The evidence that has been uncovered just in the last few years is overwhelming – new forensics analysis shows that Stacey Stites was murdered much earlier than was claimed at trial, and that she was not raped, as the state also argued. The state has fought DNA testing on the murder weapon and is now trying to execute another innocent man!

Rodney’s family and supporters are fighting this grave injustice with all we’ve got! Please stay tuned for updates on how to get involved in the struggle to stop this execution and bring Rodney home! On Facebook, please follow Reed Justice Initiative and We Demand Justice: Free Rodney Reed!

Rodney’s lawyers at the Innocence Project recently filed a civil rights lawsuit on his behalf:

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/rodney-reeds-lawyers-file-federal-civil-rights-lawsuit-against-texas/269-5cbcede3-246f-4bec-9031-51f6f5c700a5?

Rodney Reed is visited on Death Row by his mother Sandra Reed, his brother Rodrick, and Rodrick’s son RJ

Opinion: Texas refuses to test DNA that’ll prove Rodney Reed’s innocence

https://www.statesman.com/news/local/opinion-texas-refuses-test-dna-that-prove-rodney-reed-innocence/8IzwoyvqSBCR9MCs4DzBXP/

From the Austin American Statesman, July 7 2018
By Sandra Reed

The state of Texas still wants to take my son’s life even after all the facts of his innocence were presented in court. A world-renowned pathologist testified that my son — Rodney Reed — couldn’t have committed the murder of Stacey Stites. But the state of Texas refuses to DNA test all the evidence.

DNA put my son on death row, but we now know that DNA had nothing to do with the murder — it was old. And the jury wasn’t told all the results. For example, the jury never learned of a state DNA report from the time of my son’s 1998 trial of beer cans found at the scene that excluded Rodney Reed and implicated two police officers and the deceased drank from the same cans. How can the state hide DNA evidence at his trial and then prevent testing it now? Why not test the remaining evidence, such as the belt they say was the murder weapon?

Technology is far more advanced than it was 20 years ago and can go back thousands of years. Surely, they can go back 20 years.

Tell me, what happened to the reasonable doubt? What happened to compassion? What happened to empathy? What happened to justice? My son didn’t receive any of the above. Why is Texas determined to take my son Rodney Reed’s life, based on old DNA, seemingly corrupt cops, lawyers, and yes, all of the state’s experts who said my son was guilty have since recanted their testimony. There’s no proof, all that remains is the age-old prejudice that a white girl wouldn’t be involved with my son.

God said: “Vengeance is [His].” Texas, you have borne false witness against my son. Texas, how can you ignore all facts and findings presented to you? There is nothing saying that Rodney Reed committed the murder, and everything points to someone else.

My son’s experience has opened my eyes to the fact that there are many innocent lives on death row. Corruption put them there — the same corruption that sent our old sheriff to prison, and that continues to cover up the abuse our community has suffered for generations. There should be no death penalty, and the justice system needs to seek the truth. The Reed family thanks the lawyers and all the supporters and prayers. God Bless you all.

Expert Witnesses Admit Error in Case of Man Who Has Served 22 Years on Texas’ Death Row, Prompting New Appeal

(What follows is a June press release from Rodney’s legal team)

Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab Director And Other Experts Acknowledge Error in Testimony at Rodney Reed’s Capital Murder Trial 

Contact: Paul Cates, (212) 364-5346, pcates@innocenceproject.org

(June 27, 2018 – Bastrop, TX) Lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed late yesterday filed an Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus before a Texas court today containing candid admissions of error from the expert witnesses who were called by the state at Reed’s 1998 Bastrop County trial for the murder of Stacey Stites. Attached to the Application are letters and affidavits from the state’s three key expert witnesses admitting errors in the testimony which led to Reed’s conviction and sentence of death. This now-recanted expert testimony provided a crucial link between Reed’s DNA and the murder and was used to refute Reed’s long-maintained insistence that he is innocent of the crime but was involved in a consensual sexual relationship with Stites.

The papers filed today show:

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab Director Brady Mills has acknowledged “limitations” in Department of Public Safety Serologist Karen Blakely’s testimony at Reed’s trial. Citing a scientific study, Blakely testified that finding Reed’s intact spermatozoa meant that the sperm could not have been left more than 26 hours before her examination. This opinion essentially ruled out Reed’s defense that he and Stites had consensual sex in the days before her murder. (The state argued that since Stites’ whereabouts were accounted for most of the day before the murder, the only possible explanation for Reed’s sperm being in the victim’s body was that he had raped before her murder.) Crime Lab Director Brady Mills now admits that Blakely misstated the science and that the paper she cited actually confirms that Reed’s intact sperm could have been found up to 3 days after intercourse.
  • LabCorp Technical Leader Stephanie Sivak has issued a report finding errors in the testimony of retained state’s expert, LabCorp serologist Meghan Clement. Clement testified at Reed’s trial that in her experience of over 10 years examining thousands of rape kits, she had never seen intact spermatozoa more than 24 hours old. LabCorp Technical Leader Sivak now admits that this testimony was in error and that Clement should not have bolstered her erroneous opinion by referencing her experience. In a separate affidavit, another LabCorp serologist, Purnima Bokka, M.S., states that studies have found intact spermatazoa on vaginal swabs taken 72-144 hours after intercourse—more than three times as long as Clement testified at Mr. Reed’s trial.
  • Former Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo, M.D., has also recanted much of his testimony that was used to implicate Reed at his 1998 trial. Although Bayardo testified that Reed’s semen was left “quite recently,” he has now changed his opinion. In a sworn declaration, Bayardo states that his finding “very few” sperm indicated that Reed and Stites had sex “not less than 24 hours before Ms. Stites’s death.” Dr. Bayardo has also more generally recanted any opinion he offered which linked Mr. Reed to a sexual assault and murder of Ms. Stites.

These new admissions of error by the State’s own experts come on the tails of a lengthy hearing conducted last fall that focused on inconsistent statements made by Stites’s fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.

Fennell, who was recently released after serving a 10 year prison term for a sex crime, told his best friend in 1996 that he had been out drinking on the night Stites’s was murdered. However, he testified at Reed’s trial that he and Stites spent a quiet evening at home. When called to explain this discrepancy at the October 2017 hearing, Fennell refused to testify, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Renown forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D. also testified at the hearing last fall that the condition of Stites’s body rendered the state’s theory of Reed’s guilt impossible. Where the state argued Stites was killed between 3-5 a.m. on April 23, 1996, the evidence showed that Stites was actually killed before midnight on April 22nd, during the time Fennell testified he was with Stites in their apartment. Baden’s testimony was corroborated by two other leading experts and uncontradicted by the state.

This new Application will be considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and could result in the case being remanded for another hearing in the Bastrop District Court. Reed is represented by Innocent Project Senior Staff Attorney Bryce Benjet; Morris Overstreet of Prairie View, Texas; Andrew MacRae of Levatino Pace PLLC; and Michelle Davis of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom, LLP. Morris Overstreet is a retired judge and prosecutor who previously served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.