Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > News

Rodney Reed: What You Need to Know & Why You Should Care

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

If you’ve been on social media at all within the past few weeks, then you have undoubtedly seen the name Rodney Reed at some point or another. Maybe you’ve looked at the Snapchat news stories, viewed the Instagram posts, or scrolled through a countless number of tweets about him. If you’ve been confused about why his name has become so popular recently, then hopefully, the information below can help you understand. 

About the Case

In April of 1996, Stacey Stites was driving to work when she was raped and murdered. Her body was left on the side of a road outside of Bastrop, Texas. Some of her clothes were removed and a ligature mark was found around her neck, causing it to appear as though she had been strangled. Investigators examined the crime scene and collected DNA that was found on her body.

The case went unsolved for months until police were able to match the DNA found on Stites with that of Rodney Reed. They had no further evidence other than DNA to connect him to the crimes. At first, Reed denied ever knowing Stites, but eventually admitted to having an affair with her, giving reason as to why his DNA was found on her body. Despite the lack of evidence and Reed’s confession of his relation to Stites, the odds were truly stacked against him given the time, place, and circumstances of the case. 

Even in the mid-90s, interracial relationships were looked down upon, especially those that were of an extramarital nature. Moreover, the relationship occurred between a white woman and a black man, in a small town in Texas, adding to the scandalous nature of the affair. Also, Stites’s husband, Jimmy Fennell, was a white police officer in Texas at the time in which the crime took place, further stacking the odds against Reed. 

Reed was quickly arrested, indicted, and found guilty of the rape and the murder. He was also given the death sentence, despite proclaiming and maintaining his innocence from day one. His execution date is currently set for November 20th, 2019.

Why is it popular now? 

The reason this case is receiving more media attention now than ever before is because evidence supporting Reed’s claim of innocence has emerged. This newfound evidence includes factors such as the crime scene and the murder weapon not being checked for DNA, the forensic experts who testified during the trial admiting that Stites’s initial time of death was wrong, and the lack of investigation into Stites’s husband, Jimmy Fennell. 

If the crime scene and the murder weapon had been tested for DNA, it is probable that Reed’s DNA would not be found on either, disconnecting him from the case despite his DNA being on Stites (which was only discovered due to their affair). Similarly, had the forensics experts given the correct time of death, it would have been shown that it was impossible for Reed to have committed this crime. Moveover, if the investigators had truly examined Fennell as a suspect, they would have learned of the inconsistencies within Fennell’s alibi for the night of the murder, they would have known that he had threatened to kill his wife before, and they would have learned of his history of sexual assaults and kidnapping, crimes for which he is currently serving a 10-year sentence. 

Why should I care?

In about a week, Rodney Reed is going to be executed for a crime that he very clearly did not commit. In other words, another innocent black man is going to be put to death for an act that evidence now shows he had no involvement in. This fact alone should be immensely concerning to all.

Our justice system so often fails people of color, most notably those who are black. It is important to take action and make a change while that is still possible. If you agree that the execution of Rodney Reed is wrongful, I strongly urge you to take action by raising awareness of this case, signing the petition, and contacting government officials within Texas, to stop this wrongful execution from occurring.

Sansara Mahtani

Columbia Barnard '22

Sansara is a junior at Barnard College majoring in Psychology. Instagram: @sansaramahtani.