The State of Texas wants to execute an innocent man. Rodney Reed was wrongfully convicted in 1998 of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites. He has sat on Texas’ Death Row for 2 decades.
Despite mounting evidence of his innocence, the State has repeatedly denied a new trial, refused to allow existing evidence into court, and even refused to review new evidence.
Although Innocence Project attorneys secured a stay of execution in November 2019, Rodney still sits on Texas death row awaiting justice.
Existing Evidence and Facts
A) PICKUP & APARTMENT. Stacey lived with her fiancé (Jimmy Fennell, Jr.) in an apartment in Giddings and supposedly drove to work in Bastrop using his pickup truck on the morning of her death. Forensic examination of the pickup discovered DNA belonging to only Fennell and Stacey. Nothing associated with Rodney was ever found in the pickup. Furthermore, local authorities (prosecutors and law enforcement) did not search the Giddings apartment—the last known location for Stacey before her disappearance and death.
B) BEER CANS. Stacey’s body was discovered out in the middle of nowhere, about 5 yards off a dirt road under some scrub oak. Two empty beer cans were found nearby. Two different kinds of the same brand, one can crushed and the other was not. That indicated 2 different drinking behaviors and likely 2 different people. Rodney and Stacey? Not this time! DNA analysis came back indicating that they belonged to 2 local police officers with whom Fennell worked as a cop. This evidence was withheld from the defense during the trial. So much for due process. This alone should require a new trial.
C) THE BELT. The prosecutor’s theory is that Stacey was murdered as a result of ligature strangulation. Choking someone to death manually (by hand or arm-bar) or with a ligature (a rope, electrical cord, wire, or belt) requires physical strength and causes substantial injuries to the victim. Segments of a woven leather belt was recovered on the ground near the body and near the pickup. Tests demonstrated that the belt had not been cut. It had been torn in two. That would have required an incredible amount of force; force that would have caused significant physical injuries to Stacey had it been used in strangulation. However, Stacey did not show any of the typical signs of strangulation upon examination at the time of her autopsy: no injuries to her neck strap muscles, intact hyoid bone, intact cricoid cartilage, and no petechiae. Regardless, the belt remains a crucial piece of evidence that has never been tested for DNA.
D) SEMEN. Semen was recovered from the victim and analyzed for DNA. It was determined to belong to Rodney. The description of the semen given by the medical examiner who performed the autopsy indicated that they were falling apart and older than 24 hours – that is, before Stacey disappeared. The medical examiner has since recanted his testimony regarding the validity of the DNA. Rodney and Stacey were involved in a consensual sexual relationship that had not been broken off even though she was engaged to Jimmy Fennell, Jr.. Testimony from numerous witnesses confirming this affair was never heard in court. Rodney and Stacey had been together the night before her disappearance.
E) VIOLENT HISTORY. Jimmy Fennell, Jr., had a history of sexual violence and threats. Fennell failed a polygraph test twice about Stacey’s murder. The question he failed both times was his response to “did you kill Stacey?” He answered no! Fennell was released from prison in 2018, after serving a 10-year sentence for raping a woman in 2007 while she was in his custody as a police sergeant in Georgetown, Texas. That victim stated that Fennell had told her that if she reported him, then he would hunt her down and kill her after he got out of prison.
Past Appeals and Denials
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (Tx-CCA) and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals have both denied Rodney the chance to present any of this existing evidence in open court. Why not? Rodney Reed (a black man) was convicted by an all-white jury of killing Stacey Stites (a white woman), who was the fiancé of Jimmy Fennell, Jr. (a white police officer), indicating that race played a major role in Rodney’s conviction.
Yet, the truth remains that over the years, Rodney’s defense attorneys have uncovered a mountain of evidence that points to his innocence and that corroborates the defense team’s theory that Jimmy Fennell, Jr., was involved in Stacey’s murder. Yet, the courts continue to deny Rodney’s attorneys the opportunity to present any of this evidence in court.
New Evidence and Appeal
During the filming of an A&E television special about Rodney's case (2014, Dead Again: Dead Man Talking), a retired NYPD homicide investigator came to the conclusion that Stacey was murdered before midnight. This was several hours earlier than the time proposed by the original medical examiner and the prosecuting attorney at trial. The physical evidence has since been shown to world renowned forensic pathologists Drs. Michael M. Baden, Werner U. Spitz, and Cyril H. Wecht. All three agreed that Stacey must have died before midnight, which places her back in the apartment during the time that her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, stated he was present with her.
Furthermore, new witnesses (including a law enforcement officer) have come forward regarding statements made by Fennell about what would happen to Stacey if she cheated on him. This evidence, as well as the DNA testing and new forensics evidence, needs to be heard in open court by a jury.
We, the undersigned, believe it is a travesty of justice to deny Rodney Reed the chance to present the above evidence to a jury. We demand that Reed death warrant be rescinded, that he be granted a new trial where the evidence of his innocence and Fennell’s possible guilt can be presented, and that the execution of Rodney Reed not go forward under any circumstances.