Rodney Reed was convicted of raping and murdering a white woman in 1996 and was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Texas in 1998. Now, Reed and his family, who has maintained his innocence, is seeking justice before his scheduled execution on November 20.
At 28 years old, Reed was convicted of killing Stacey Stites, 19, in Bastrop, Texas. He was ordered to death row because his DNA was found in Stite’s vaginal cavity, according to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted people. From the beginning of the case, Reed addressed the presence of DNA, admitting he and Stites were involved in a secret affair and that the amount of DNA never indicated a murder.
Authorities initially suspected the man Stites’ was engaged to -- Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennel, as the prime suspect when her partially clothed body was found in a wooded area on April 23, 1996. She was strangled with her own belt. Fennel was cleared of any wrongdoing, with some saying the assistance of other racist cops. Reed was indicted for her murder instead.
Not only was the murder weapon never tested for DNA, three forensic specialists from Reed’s racially charged trial submitted sworn affidavits citing how Stites’ reported time of death was inaccurate. According to the Innocence Project, her original time of death makes the timeline for Reed killing Stites highly unlikely.
At the time of the trial, no witnesses came forward to corroborate Stites and Reed’s consensual sexual relationship, assisting the prosecution’s argument for a guilty verdict. Since then, Stites’ own cousin and co-worker have admitted to knowing about their romantic relationship.
In another groundbreaking key element, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, Fennell’s former best friend, admitted Fennell provided contradictory accounts of where he was on the night of Stites’ death. Originally saying he was out drinking the evening Stites’ was killed, he later confessed he was at his apartment he shared with Stites. Since then, it’s been determined the actual time of her death occurred during their time together that evening by the new forensic investigation. Fennel, who also failed two lie detector tests during the investigation, also had motive to kill his fiance` for cheating on him with another man. Meaww also reports a police officer, whose identity has not been revealed, overheard Fennell say Stites got what she deserved while at her funeral.
In 2007, Fennel, who had a history of violence against women, served 10 years for kidnapping and sexual assaulting a woman he arrested.
On October 10 and 11, Reed’s story was featured on Dr.Phil's two-part series about the controversial case.
A Twitter account has been created to help free Reed, with updates to his case and how others can get involved in securing his freedom.
A Change.org petition has been launched, seeking 75,000 signatures. As of Thursday, October 17, the petition has garnered over 64,000 signatures.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images