Rodney Reed Mort Ou Vivant

Doubts over Reed’s guilt in the 1996 murder ns Stacey Stites ont lingered for more than 20 years et gained international attention. But a referee decided versus recommending a new trial.

par Jolie McCullough Nov. 1, 2021 Updated: le 3 PM central


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Rodney Reed was sentenced à death pour the 1996 murder de Stacey Stites in Bastrop. Credit: Courtesy KXAN
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BASTROP — an ext than deux decades after Rodney Reed to be sentenced venir death parce que le the murder ns 19-year-old Stacey Stites, doubts around his guilt and the role gyeongju might oui played in his 1998 assurance continue à haunt this central Texas town.

On Monday, a referee appointed à reexamine the boîte slammed the door nous Reed’s best chance à avoid execution, release his findings that recently presented evidence is no enough à grant Reed a nouveau trial.

The ruling by retired state district Judge J.D. Langley is a dramatic setback for dattaquer to victory Reed’s freedom in a case that has spawned international attention and outrage, often cited de Reed’s supporters as année example du a black man railroaded by an American criminal judiciaire system.


Langley’s recommendation, issued two weeks after he heard attorneys’ final discuter at thé Bastrop ar courthouse, currently goes to thé Texas bas of Criminal Appeals, which has actually the critique say in the matter.

It is année explosive revolve after nearly a quarter-century of bas battles over thé 1996 Bastrop county killing. Reed, now 53, et his supporters oui long proclaimed his innocence, pointing blame at Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Stites’ family et state attorneys continue to be convinced de Reed’s guilt.

Reed, a le noir man, was found coupable of murdering Stites, a blanche woman, and sentenced venir death by an all-white jury. Fennell, a white man, is a constitue Giddings police officer.

"The court of Criminal Appeals has repeatedly thought about allegations of fond ... And found them wanting," Langley created in his findings.


Langley’s rejection du a nouveau trial comes nearly two years after Reed’s imminent execution was halted among deafening calls parce que le further review du his assurance from a bipartisan coporation, groupe of texas lawmakers, many A-list celebrities et millions du people that signed online petitions. After years de appeals, auto Texas meugler of Criminal Appeals, thé state’s highest possible criminal court, ordered thé trial meugler in 2019 venir weigh even if it is Reed is innocent ns Stites’ murder.

But the high meugler can still rule against Langley et grant Reed a new trial. It’s unclear when the bas will do a decision.

Reed’s family members was confident that, after spending much more than 23 years on death row, Reed could finally success a new trial, his brother said last month. Langley presided over a practically two-week listening this summer to review claims de Reed’s innocence, and examine whether Bastrop county prosecutors withheld evidence or put false evidence avant jurors.

“That’s all we ask parce que le is a fair trial,” Rodrick Reed stated outside of a Bastrop county courtroom after Langley heard closing arguments in the case. “My brothers never had actually that from the beginning. It was a Jim crow trial right out de the gate.”


Reed’s attorneys said Monday that they watch forward to presenting Reed’s caisse to Texas’ high criminal court.

“If a nouveau jury heard the overwhelming evidence ns Rodney Reed’s innocence, cette would ont reasonable doubts. Convicted by an all-white jury, Mr. Reed has spent 23 years conditions météorologiques death row pour a crime he did no commit,” said Jane Pucher with the volontier Project. “We hope the bas of Criminal Appeals establish that hey should be offered a nouveau trial.”

The deux decades since Rodney Reed’s conviction have watched a simmering mélanger of emotion, apprehension and accusations of racism as his appeals oui wound their way through the courts.

Stites was engaged à Fennell, but Reed claimed he et Stites were additionally romantically involved.


Both Reed et Fennell have been accused de other sex-related assaults. Reed was indicted, marqué never convicted, in several other rape caisse months avant his trial in Stites’ death began in 1998. Fennell invested 10 years in retenue after cette kidnapped et allegedly raped a woman while nous duty as a officier de police officer in 2007.

In his 50-page ruling, Langley face with auto state’s arguments that Fennell was a credible witness, providing weight to his explication of Stites leaving your apartment to aller to work thé morning avant she was uncovered dead. Langley also credited Fennell and family members ont depicting the couple’s relationship ont happy and that both to be excited about their upcoming wedding. Langley discounted the 17 witnesses brought forward par Reed who claimed either Stites et Reed were at the very least friendly avant her murder, or that Fennell had acted suspiciously after the murder or was violent and controlling towards Stites.

The judge discounted Reed’s witnesses in part, hey said, since they “waited decades à bring forth ... ‘recollection.’” Andrew MacRae, one of Reed’s attorneys, however, argued venir Langley in October that auto witnesses didn’t purposefully wait venir speak cible were just never search out de investigators.

“These toutes les personnes didn’t come forward, nous found them,” hey countered during his close up door arguments.

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On April 23, 1996, Stites’ body was found par the side of a la campagne Bastrop ar road, partially unclothed, hours after she missed sa shift at a local grocery store, according to meugler records. Fennell’s truck was discovered abandoned in a adjacent school place de stationnement lot. Pieces du Stites’ belt, i beg your pardon is believed to have been used à strangle her, were discovered at both locations.

Initially, Fennell, a local police officer, was a suspect, found venir be deceptive on two polygraph test when questioned in the killing. Cible he to be cleared after investigators couldn’t account for how hey could ont gotten earlier without his van to thé couple’s apartment in auto nearby town de Giddings passant par the temps Stites was reported missing, bas records state. Fennell told officier de police Stites had taken his truck in thé early morning to marche to work. Once Stites’ mother, who lived in a adjacent apartment unit, called to parlez him Stites’ coworker had reported elle never verified up, Fennell was home.

Reed’s lawyers oui argued that Fennell was never properly investigated. Police relied as well heavily on his claim that Stites had actually left parce que le work alive, castle said, making use of that to estimate her time du death without ever before searching auto couple’s apartment to see si there had actually been any signs du a struggle. Et investigators to be late to interview Fennell jaune the couple’s neighbors, Reed’s attorneys said the meugler this month. The homme who lived directly below the paire told a Giddings-area regulation enforcement main after the murder the the coupler often fought. Cette was never ever interviewed par Bastrop investigators, Reed’s attorneys said.

Semen found in Stites’ body led officier de police to believe elle was sexually assaulted antérieur à being murdered. Virtually a année after her death, sperm cell from Stites’ corps were uncovered to match Reed, which prosecutors called thé “smoking gun” ns the crime. Prosecutors oui since suggested that Reed quit Stites while she was driving à work, climate sexually assaulted and killed her.


“The fact is, your honor, the Rodney Reed kidnapped, brutally raped and violently murdered Stacey Stites,” Travis Bragg, année assistant texans attorney general, told Langley last month.

Reed counters the he and Stites were in a casual relationship and had consensual sex thé day avant her disappearance. Stites’ relatives deny thé two knew each other antérieur à her death. Numerous toutes les personnes who knew Stites ont said since Reed’s condamnation that lock saw thé two together.

In auto decades since auto murder, forensic compétence have changed their statements nous what the presence ns sperm means. At Reed’s trial, experts testified that Stites to be sexually assaulted just antérieur à her death, et that auto sperm cell would ont been unlikely venir remain in Stites’ corps for much more than 24 hours. Thé medical examiner et other spécialiser have because said there was no evidence the sperm equivalent Reed to be a result de sexual assault, and it could ont remained in Stites’ body for an ext than a job after consensual sex.

Reed’s attorneys additionally argue that forensic examination, like auto stiffness of her body et pooling of elle blood, makes it more most likely Stites died avant the time when Fennell said elle left à la work, despite elle being in elle work clothes. V their own spécialiser knocking down the finding du rape et presuming a time of death when Fennell said he was alone v Stites, Reed’s attorneys to speak his volontier claim is strong.


“Without , the seul thing thé state has actually is the word du Jimmy Fennell,” Pucher claimed in court.

Langley sided v state forensic experts, however, who said Stites could oui been sexually assaulted, and gave credence to the time du death provided based on Fennell’s testimony of sa leaving parce que le work, in aller because Stites’ corps was found in her work clothes.

As thé years ont gone by, defense attorneys ont found plenty of witnesses venir bolster Reed’s insurance claim that he and Stites had année affair, and mettre en ordre more suspicion conditions météorologiques Fennell. Several people, including some ns Stites’ co-workers, said they had actually seen Stites et Reed together previously. Some, Reed’s attorneys argue, told law enforcement at thé time de the murder around seeing Reed and Stites together, but such evidence was never ever investigated or provided to defense attorneys.

Other people oui since said attorneys that Fennell et Stites’ partnership was troubled. A fellow policier officer said she heard Fennell to speak that he would strangle Stites v a belt if cette ever found out elle cheated on him. A structure sheriff’s deputy said cette heard Fennell parlez Stites’ corps at sa funeral that she deserved what she got. And another deputy indigenous a various county claimed Fennell said him before the murder that cette believed Stites was having actually sex with a black man. A homme who was in confinement with Fennell after the 2007 kidnapping et rape caisse told attorneys the Fennell confessed to him that he killed Stites.


To Stites’ family, auto prosecution and Langley, the newly uncovered witnesses space not credible. State attorneys had actually a memory expert testify that personnes can falsely remember jambe because de media influence. They hope Reed’s condamnation will it is in upheld and the appeals will certainly end, pointing to his sperm in Stites’ body and his indictments in four other suspected jaune attempted rapes in Bastrop ar — two near thé same time and place thé state stated Stites was killed.

“Rodney Reed is a serial rapist and a murderer,” claimed Debra Oliver, Stites’ larger sister, outside thé courtroom last month. “Texas needs venir finally have justice prevail, and enough is enough. We’ve been taking care of this parce que le 25 years.”

After the ruling Monday, Oliver said in a statement released with a coporation, groupe that advocates à la Reed"s continued constance, condamnations, jugements that she was pleasure with auto ruling, marqué that cette didn"t bring elle sister back.

"I am hopeful that the Texas meugler of Criminal Appeals will stop Reed native depriving un autre family of their love one et that cette will never be able to victimize another woman," elle said.


But à la Reed and his attorneys, there is no forensic proof proving Stites to be raped et died after she left pour work, thé witnesses who oui since been discovered par investigative attorneys are much more credible 보다 Fennell. During auto hearing avant Langley, MacRae scoffed at thé prosecution et Fennell parce que le discounting auto many witnesses ont lying or misremembering, yet insisting the Fennell is truthful.

“People who ont no axe to grind et who corroborate every other: not credible,” MacRae said, impersonating thé prosecution’s arguments. “A judge rapist et kidnapper who supporter to aller to prison for thé rest de his tons if Rodney Reed is acquitted et who sûr everyone rather is lying: he’s credible.”


If you jaune someone you know has to be sexually assaulted, amie can get confidential help par calling thé Rape, Abuse & Incest national Network’s 24/7 toll-free faire un don line at 800-656-4673 jaune visiting its online hotline.

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