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Is Texas About to Execute An Innocent Man?

Disclaimer: Sensitive information about a crime discussed. Facts about the case obtained from the Innocence Project. 

On November 20th, you might be going to class. Maybe you have an early start to your Wednesday mornings and you pick up coffee on the way. Maybe you’ll be antsy because it’s only a few days before Thanksgiving break and you finally get to see your family and friends at home again. Maybe you’re not a Thanksgiving person and you don’t care too much, so it’s just a regular day. On November 20th, you might be going to work. On November 20th, you might be doing nothing at all. While this could be a normal day in your life, November 20th stands to be the last day of someone else’s life. 

Rodney Reed was convicted for the murder of Stacey Stites in Texas in 1997. Stites, a nineteen-year-old woman was found dead on the side of the road on April 23rd, 1996. Her fiancé’s truck, which she was said to have borrowed to drive to work at 3:30 that morning, was located in a high school parking lot at 5:30 the same morning. For months after Stites was discovered, her fiancé Jimmy Fennell was the main suspect in the case. About a year later, Reed was found guilty at trial of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites. He has been on death row since 1998. 

On November 20th, the state of Texas has set Rodney Reed’s day of death row execution. For the entirety of his sentence, Rodney Reed has upheld the fact that he is innocent.

Rodney has been denied DNA testing, and the murder weapon has never been DNA tested either. “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.” (Innocence Project). Three forensic science experts, Michael Baden, M.D., Werner Spitz, M.D., LeRoy Riddick, M.D., and Cyril Wecht, M.D., have concluded that Rodney’s guilt is scientifically and medically impossible. “At trial, the State argued that Mr. Reed somehow intercepted Stites while she was en route to work, gained entry to the truck, sexually assaulted and strangled her (within a two hour window between 3:00 – 5:00 a.m.) without leaving fingerprints, hair, or other evidence in the truck, and then transported her body to the remote location where it was discovered that afternoon.” (Innocence Project).

Secondly, during the trial, the fact that sperm cells with Rodney’s DNA were found during Stacey’s autopsy. However, it was left out that these cells were old, and from a consensual relationship between her and Rodney. He also had an alibi for the entire morning Stites went missing and was found. Three Texas state forensic scientists have also admitted on record that they made errors in their testimony, which lead to the conviction and death sentence of Rodney Reed. (Innocence Project). Reed, a black man, was also sentenced in a room with a jury composed of a complete lack of diversity. 

In the past 22 years, new witnesses have come forward to confirm that the relationship between Stacey Stites and Rodney Reed was consensual. Witnesses have also come forward and signed affidavits that explained that they heard Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, claim that he would harm Stacey if he found out she was cheating on him. Fennell also has a history of violence, as he has served a ten-year sentence for kidnapping and sex crimes. (Innocence Project). Fennell was the main suspect for a few months after Stacey was found, and he even gave an inconsistent recounting of where he was on the night of the murder. (Innocence Project).

On October 21st, Rodney Reed and his lawyers asked Governor Greg Abbott to spare his life with a thirty-day reprieve and sent a fourteen-page letter detailing all of the facts of the case. You can read the said letter here. On October 30th, the Texas CCA (Court of Criminal Appeals) denied Rodney Reed’s motion for a stay of execution. This means, the sentence would not be overturned but the execution date would be pushed back. This will now be sent to the Supreme Court. Also, on October 30, Arthur Snow who was in prison with Jimmy Fennell came forward with an affidavit stating that Jimmy confessed to the murder of Stacey Stites, in a racist and explicit way. 

Rodney Reed has been robbed of his Constitutional right to a fair trial. Due to this fact, the state of Texas might execute an innocent man on November 20th, 2019. If you aren’t convinced by the facts laid out in this article, you can find many more in the letter and on innocenceproject.org. Additionally, Dr. Phil went to the death row prison in Texas and interviewed not only Rodney Reed, but his lawyer, Jimmy Fennell’s lawyer, and the forensic scientists who concluded that Reed’s guilt is scientifically impossible. If you believe injustice in America and believe the facts as they are outlined here, write to Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Their contact information:

Write an electronic message to the governor here

(800) 843-5789 – Information and Referral Hotline (for Texas callers)

(512) 463-1782 – Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline (for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers)

(512) 463-2000 – Office of the Governor Main Switchboard (office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST)

Call 711 for Relay Texas – Citizen’s Assistance Telecommunications Device, if you are using a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD)

Email the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: bpp-pio@tdcj.texas.gov

Please take action in helping Rodney Reed see a glimmer of justice after 22 years of being deterred from a path to a fair trial.   

Photo credit: 1, 23

Meg is a senior majoring in Criminology, Law, & Justice, with a certificate in Writing, and a minor in Communications. She can frequently be found rewatching Gilmore Girls for the 900th time, consuming copious amounts of coffee, reading Harry Potter, and watching Flyers games. She is immensely passionate about photography and telling stories. In the future, she will pursue a career as a paralegal.
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