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and (2) all of the State’s expert witnesses who supported the State’s theory that Reed raped and murdered Stites have withdrawn or modified those opinions.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.

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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.


Face the Forensics! Rally for Rodney Reed this weekend

Rally for Justice for Rodney! Stop the Execution!
Saturday, September 21, 2019, 4:00 – 7:00 pm
Kerr Community Center, Bastrop, TX
https://www.facebook.com/events/496828670878421/

Please join us for a community event supporting Rodney Reed and his family to stop the execution scheduled for November 20, 2019. We must demand that Gov. Greg Abbott and the State of Texas stop the execution and grant the DNA testing and day in court that Rodney deserves!

We are so honored to welcome Anthony Graves and his mother to this event. Anthony spent 18 years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit before being exonerated and later freed in 2010. 

We will also hear remarks from:
Death Row Exonerees from Witness to Innocence
-Derrick Jamison, spent 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit
-Albert Burrell, spent 13 years on Louisiana’s death row in Angola Prison for a crime he did not commit
Ron Keine, spent 2 years on New Mexico’s death row for a crime he did not commit

Deke Pierce, law enforcement officer with 28 years of experience
Robert L. Muhammad, leader of Austin Nation of Islam
Kevin Gannon, Retired NYPD detective from A&E’S Dead Again
-Sandra Reed, Rodney’s mother
Rodrick Reed, Rodney’s brother
-and other special guests!

Please join us to send a loud and clear message to Texas officials:
FACE THE FORENSICS: RODNEY REED IS INNOCENT!

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.

Sister Helen Prejean tweets in support of Rodney

September 4, 2019

Sister Helen Prejean, renowned death penalty abolitionist and author of Dead Man Walking, tweeted this week in support of Rodney Reed.

“If prosecutors are confident that Rodney is guilty, then why block DNA testing? Maybe it’s because there was another suspect who failed multiple polygraph tests but was never thoroughly investigated. That man went on to do prison time for other crimes against women”

That man is Jimmy Fennell, the fiance of Stacey Stites. Fennell spent ten years in prison for the rape of a woman in his custody as a Georgetown, Texas, police officer.

You can read the tweet thread here. Full text is below.

She also questioned the timing of Rodney’s latest execution date:

“June 29: Rodney Reed’s family speaks at an anti-death penalty event in D.C.
July 11: Local newspaper in Bastrop, TX, prints a front-page article about the Reed family’s advocacy.
July 15: Bastrop DA’s office requests an execution date for Rodney.

Coincidence? Doubt it.”

Sister Helen has supported Rodney for many years. She traveled to Austin, Texas, to show her support in February 2015. In an interview with Al Jazeera, she spoke of Rodney’s innocence and the racism at the heart of the US justice system.

Text of Sister Helen’s tweet thread, September 2, 2019:

“Texas plans to execute Rodney Reed on November 20th. Prosecutors and lawyers for the state have rep”eatedly blocked DNA testing on several items found at the crime scene. In other words, they want to execute Rodney without ever doing tests that could prove he is innocent.

If prosecutors are confident that Rodney is guilty, then why block DNA testing? Maybe it’s because there was another suspect who failed multiple polygraph tests but was never thoroughly investigated. That man went on to do prison time for other crimes against women.

The alternative suspect, Jimmy Fennell, was Stacey Stites’s fiancé. He failed the polygraph on this question: “Did you strangle Stacey?” He was never thoroughly investigated after failing the test. Why? It might have something to do with his role as a local police officer.

A Dallas-area police officer has come forward with a chilling story. At a police training session in 1995, Jimmy Fennell said he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt (no fingerprints) if he ever caught her cheating. Stacey Stites was strangled with her own belt in 1996.

In 2007, Jimmy Fennell raped a woman he had detained while on-duty as a police officer in Georgetown, Texas. He put a gun against her head and told her that he would hunt her down and kill her if she reported the rape. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years.

Are prosecutors and police trying to hide something by blocking DNA testing of crime scene evidence? There are so many red flags in Rodney Reed’s case. Why the rush to execute him now?”

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