According to the court order postponing Reed’s execution for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, Reed’s new defense team has newly discovered evidence that supports his claims of innocence and there is new “scientific evidence” that establishes his “probable innocence.”
Reed, who was scheduled to be put to death March 5, has always maintained his innocence. Reed’s family, including his brother Roderick, has campaigned for the stay of execution, the inclusion of more DNA evidence and for Reed’s exoneration. Roderick said this ruling is a major turning point in the case.
“We’re happy about the stay, but we’re still fighting to free Rodney Reed,” he said. “The fight goes on, but the stay is wonderful, great news and is a step in the direction we’re trying to get.”
Prosecutors have said all along that Stites was killed around 3 a.m., April 23, 1996, and her body was found about 12 hours later. They say Reed abducted, raped and strangled her.
However, Reed’s defense attorney says their new evidence shows she was killed hours earlier, the night before. And he says the only person with her was her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell. The defense also says Stites and Reed had been in a relationship for a few months, and that is why his DNA was found.
“I would hope that the state would want to execute someone only after it was certain that that person was guilty,” said Andrew MacRae, Reed’s defense attorney. “What the state is trying to do here, in our view, is rush the execution date, before we can get to the evidence that establishes Mr. Reed’s innocence.”
In briefs filed by attorneys MacRae and Bryce Benjet, an attorney with The Innocence Project, the defense lists several flaws in the case against Reed and new pieces of evidence that could prove his innocence. In addition to the inaccurate chronology presented by the prosecution, the state did not test DNA on the murder weapon, a black belt, among other items found at the crime scene that could have proven Reed’s innocence, according to court briefings.
According to the defense’s briefs, the state’s key forensic witness has retracted his opinion offered at trial and now contradicts the state’s scientific proof that Reed raped Stites. Three forensic experts have also weighed in on the case and found the evidence does not prove Reed raped Stites, the briefs state.
Fennell is now in prison for a sexual assault he was convicted of as a Georgetown police officer in September 2008. At the time of Stites’ murder, Fennell was a Giddings police officer.
Stites’ cousin, Heather Stobbs, says while many of her family members believe Reed killed Stites, she’s convinced otherwise.
“With as many doubts about the case as I have, I don’t feel like I could live with not saying anything,” Stobbs said. She and many others who think Reed is innocent believe Fennell killed her. “There was always that doubt going around in the back of my mind…I surely hope I didn’t sacrifice my relationship with my aunt and my cousins and all that.”
An attorney who has represented Fennell says Reed made up the story of an affair after investigators found his DNA on Stites’ body.