“Governor Abbott, delay this execution”

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott, A man’s life now lies in your hands. Spare him.

On Nov. 20, Rodney Reed is to be executed by the state of Texas for a crime we can no longer be confident he committed. Twenty one years ago, he was convicted in the 1996 rape and murder of 19-year old Giddings resident Stacey Stites. Ever since, evidence has mounted that Reed neither raped nor killed her. Now, his defense claims it has new witnesses pointing to the man who did.

Photo by Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman

Reed, 51, is scheduled to die. Of this, there is no doubt. Nor of this: Stites was strangled and killed on April 23, 1996, her body found on a country road in neighboring Bastrop County. Reed became a suspect a year later when another woman accused him of sexual assault; the prosecution showed semen found on both women belonged to Reed.

Reed maintained that was because he and Stites, engaged to Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell, Jr., had been having an affair, but the jury convicted him anyway.

Over time, facts have emerged that were never part of Reed’s trial and as a result, the prosecution’s case has fallen apart.

The medical examiner who claimed that Reed raped Stites has recanted. DNA evidence that pointed to Stites’ fiance was never shared with Reed’s defense. Other physical evidence, including the murder weapon — her belt — was never subjected to genetic testing. Now, Reed’s defense at the Innocence Project claims it has new evidence, including two signed affadavits from individuals who knew Fennell. One says he threatened to kill Stites if he ever caught her with another man, and another says he heard Fennell tell her corpse at the viewing that she had deserved to die.

On Oct. 4, lawyers for the Innocence Project filed a motion in state court to have the execution date withdrawn, citing the new evidence that they say was not available at trial.

All along, the state courts have denied Reed’s one repeated request: that evidence collected where Stites’ body was found be genetically tested. Just two years ago, Fennell’s old boss, Giddings’ former chief of police, told CNN that Fennell had confessed to being out later than he’d said at trial and that he’d been drinking the night before his fiance’s body was discovered, too.

The Criminal Court of Appeals has twice rejected Reed’s appeal, saying the untested evidence probably would not have acquitted Reed nor would the testimony of Fennell’s old boss have been enough to convict Fennell, who has never been charged in connection to Stites’ death. Fennell just finished 10 years in prison for raping a woman in his custody.

Of course, Fennell’s guilt is not the urgent question right now. It’s Reed’s life that hangs in the balance.

His guilt is not remotely beyond a reasonable doubt. A man should not die as long as a believable question of innocence hangs over him.

Which brings us to you, governor.

The case of Rodney Reed is not a case against the death penalty, which still has the support of many in this law-and-order state. It is a case against a potentially wrongful execution.

Your predecessor, Rick Perry, stood by during the frequent executions of his tenure. On Perry’s watch, 279 inmates were put to death — nearly half of the state’s total since Texas resumed executions in 1982. While on your watch, Governor Abbott, 46 people have been executed, you have also already done something Perry rarely did: You’ve exercised discretion to stop an execution.

Minutes before Thomas Whitaker was set to die, at 6 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2018, you granted him clemency. He will spend life in prison for the murder of his mother and brother in Fort Bend County over an inheritance. There was no question of Whitaker’s guilt, just whether it was fair to put him to death when the triggerman got a lighter sentence.

How much more compelling, then, is Reed’s case: Whitaker, who is white, was unquestionably guilty; Reed, who is black, may well be innocent. Study after study, including work by University of Michigan researchers, has found that black and Latino convicts are far more likely to wind up on death row, wrongfully, than white convicts.

Now the case rests beforethe Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and it may soon send you a recommendation in Reed’s case. But you can signal your own preference now. You aren’t bound by arcane rules of the appellate courts. Both you and the board have the documented flaws in the case. You have the Bastrop County prosecutor steadfastly refusing DNA testing on an old murder. You have the fact that Reed has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. And even if the board doesn’t recommend you commute his sentence, you have the authority to spare his life for 30 days as he pursues his remedy at the Supreme Court.

You should use that authority and give the courts time to fully evaluate the new evidence.

As you mull your options, remember our history: Texas has a tarnished record of convicting and executing the wrong people. In 1863, San Patricio County hanged Chipita Rodriquez for a murder she did not commit, as made clear 120 years later when the state legislature absolved her. In 2000, Claude Jones was put to death because a single strand of his hair was found at a liquor store that had been the scene of a robbery-turned-murder. A decade later, researchers tested that hair and found it very likely came from someone else.

There are many recent cases of wrongful convictions leading to death row in Texas. Since 1987, 13 death row prisoners in Texas have been exonerated. Most were not white, according to data kept by the Innocence Project. False accusations and official misconduct have been at the root of most exonerations in the United States. Right now, though, Rodney Reed is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. on Nov. 20 in Huntsville.

There is so much wrong with his case there is hardly anything right with it. Do not execute this man, governor. Spare Rodney Reed’s life.

Richard Parker, author of “Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America,” is a contributing columnist for the Houston Chronicle.


10 Facts You Need to Know About Rodney Reed, Who is Scheduled for Execution on November 20

Rodney Reed, who maintains his innocence, has been on death row for the past 21 years for the murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Since his trial, there is substantial evidence that exonerates Reed and implicates Stites’ fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a local police officer. Reed is scheduled for execution on November 20, 2019, despite an enormous amount of evidence that supports his innocence.

 Watch: Dr. Phil interview Rodney Reed

Here are key facts you should know about his case:

  1. The murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence. Requests for DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including a belt that was used as the murder weapon has been repeatedly denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court declined to directly review the Texas courts’ denial of DNA testing
  2. The state’s three forensic experts have admitted on the record to errors in their testimony, which led to Reed’s conviction and death sentence. The three forensic experts from Reed’s original trial have submitted affidavits that the original time of death is inaccurate, which makes the timeline for Reed killing Stites implausible.
  3. Renown forensic pathologists including Michael Baden, M.D., Werner Spitz, M.D., LeRoy Riddick, M.D., and Cyril Wecht, M.D. have all concluded that Reed’s guilt is medically and scientifically impossible. The prosecution’s only forensic evidence linking Reed to the crime was semen taken from Stites’s body, which was attributed to the consensual relationship between them. The prosecution used this to connect him to the murder and refute this consensual romantic relationship, but supporting testimony has since been recanted and completely discredits the state’s case.
  4. Rodney Reed and Stacey Stites were having a consensual sexual relationship. At the time of the trial, no one came forward to corroborate their relationship. Today, new witnesses including Stites’s own cousin and co-worker have corroborated Reed’s claim that they knew that Reed and Stites were romantically involved.
  5. For months after the murder, Jimmy Fennell was the prime suspect in the case. A recording of one of the police investigators indicates that Fennell was suspected in the murder of Stites, motivated by her relationship with another man. 
  6. Fennell’s best friend at the time of the crime, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, has now revealed that Fennell gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder. Fennell had told his friend he was out drinking on the night Stites was murdered. Contradicting this claim, he later stated he was with Stites in their apartment during what we now know was the actual time of her death, based on Dr. Michael Baden’s updated testimony. When asked to explain this discrepancy, Fennell declined to testify because his answers might further incriminate him.
  7. Two witnesses have come forward in recent weeks and submitted signed affidavits that add to the mounting evidence against Jimmy Fennell. These affidavits include testimony from an insurance salesperson who stated that Fennell threatened to kill Stites while applying for life insurance. The second witness was a Deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the murder, who Fennell made an alarming and incriminating statement to at Stites’s funeral regarding her body.
  8. Fennell later served a 10-year prison term for a sex crime and kidnapping. Law enforcement records also document a pattern of violence against women perpetrated by Fennell. 
  9. This case was racially charged: Reed, a black man, was found guilty of murdering Stites, a white woman by an all-white jury.
  10. Take action: You can help stop this execution by sharing this article and adding your name to this petition and checking out our Action Items

Authored by the Innocence Project: https://www.innocenceproject.org/10-facts-you-need-to-know-about-rodney-reed-who-is-scheduled-for-execution-on-november-20/

Rodney Reed will appear on Dr. Phil this week

Updated October 15, 2019

Rodney will appear in a special two-part episode of The Dr. Phil Show on October 10 and 11. Check your local listings for channel and time. Many thanks to Dr. Phil and his crew for traveling to the Death Row in Livingston, Texas, to interview Rodney!

Clips have been added to Dr. Phil’s site!
Rodney Reed’s Death Row Countdown: Is an Innocent Man About to Die? (Part 1)

What Happened to Stacey? What the Evidence Shows (Part 2)

In the UK, watch Part 1 and Part 2 at Daily Motion

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

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 :

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.

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

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:

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.