21 years ago, Rodney Reed was sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the rape and murder of Stacy Stites, a white woman, in 1996. Rodney has been on death row for the past two decades despite mounting evidence proving his innocence and instead, implicating Stites’ then-fiancé and former cop Jimmy Fennell. Stites’ body was found alongside an empty road in Bastrop, Texas in April 1996 after she failed to show up for work. She was strangled with her own belt and had a man’s semen inside her, which was tested one year later and found to belong to Rodney. When Rodney Reed was arrested and questioned, he denied knowing Stites, but eventually confessed that they had been having an affair behind Fennell’s back– a fact that was corroborated by Stites’ cousin. Rodney told Bastrop cops that his DNA was inside Stites because they had had consensual sex the night before she was killed. Despite Rodney’s claims of innocence and confirmation that he and Stites were romantically involved, he was arrested and charged with capital murder in 1997. That subsequent year, a jury of only white people sentenced Rodney to death.
After her body was found, the main suspect in Stites’ murder was her fiancé Jimmy Fennell–a rookie cop. Although Stites’ mother and sister claim that she and Fennell were happy and in love, new sworn testimonies offer opposing evidence. Charles Fletcher, a former Bastrop county deputy who knew Stites and Fennell said in his sworn affidavit that Fennell once told him Stites was having an affair with a Black man. Fletcher said he worked with Fennell and he and his wife often went out to dinner and bowling with Fennell and his fiancé and that in the spring of 1996, Fennell said he believed Stites was “f—ing a n—–“. According to the Statesman, “In 2009, Fletcher met his current wife and later opened up to her about his experience with Fennell and Stites. She pushed Fletcher to share his experiences despite possible ‘negative reaction,’ he said.” Prior to Fletcher’s testimony, a life insurance salesperson who knew both Stites and Fennell offered her own statement in a sworn affidavit where she said she witnessed a conversation between the couple in 1995 during Stites’ application for life insurance in which Fennell said, “If I ever catch you messing around on me, I will kill you and no one will ever know it was me that killed you.” The third affidavit offered in Rodney Reed’s defense came from former Texas game warden and Lee County sheriff’s deputy Lee Clampit who had a close relationship with Stites and Fennell and claimed that when they were attending Stites’ funeral, “Jimmy said something along the lines of, ‘You got what you deserved.’ … I was completely shocked and floored by what Jimmy said. It did not strike me as something a grieving partner would say to their murdered fiancé.”
According to KXAN, cops allowed Fennell to retrieve his truck six days after Stites’ body was found after which, he subsequently sold the vehicle. The truck as well as the apartment Fennell and Stites shared was never searched or investigated. KXAN also wrote, “And court documents show there was a beer can found in the area near the body. Initial testing linked DNA found on the item to two local law enforcement officers, Ed Salmela – who helped Fennell inspect his truck after the murder – and David Hall, who was Fennell’s close friend and neighbor. That evidence was later deemed inconclusive and excluded from the case. Hall couldn’t be reached for comment. Salmela committed suicide months after the investigation began. Aside from the DNA evidence linking Rodney to Stites, no other physical evidence – not a single fingerprint or hair in the vehicle – matched Rodney.” During the murder investigation, Fennell took a polygraph test in which he registered a deceptive response when he was asked if he killed Stites, but his responses and the test itself were deemed inadmissible in the trial of Rodney Reed. In 2007, Fennell was arrested and convicted of the kidnapping and rape of a woman in his custody when he was a Georgetown cop. In fact, several women accused Fennell of sexual harassment, assault, and stalking when he wore a badge. According to numerous court documents, Fennell also maintained a Myspace page that contained pictures of violence and police brutality.
The Innocence Project, whose lawyers have been representing Rodney Reed, noted many of the notable facts about Reed’s case, some of which include how the murder weapon– Stites’ belt– was never tested for DNA evidence and that in 2018, SCOTUS declined to directly review the Texas courts’ denial of DNA test. The second most important fact about the case is that “The state’s three forensic experts have admitted on the record to errors in their testimony, which led to Reed’s conviction and death sentence.” Fennell’s former best friend, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, even offered a sworn affidavit where he said that Fennell consistently provided inconsistent accounts of where he was when Stites was murdered.
Last month, Rodney Reed and his attorneys at the Innocence Project filed a US Supreme Court petition asking the court to review “new and comprehensive evidence of innocence” while claiming that Reed’s constitutional rights were violated “by the use of invalid scientific evidence to convict.” The Innocence Project is asking SCOTUS to “correct constitutional errors created based on the discovery that (1) Fennell did not give a consistent account of where he was on the night Stites was murdered and (2) all of the State’s expert witnesses who supported the State’s theory that Reed raped and murdered Stites have withdrawn or modified those opinions.” In August, Rodney’s lawyers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Texas because the state refused to test the murder weapon, which they claim violates Rodney’s constitutional rights.
Rodney Reed is set to be murdered by the state of Texas on November 20. Politicians like Texas Governor Greg Abbott have the power and authority to stop the execution, but they are currently refusing to take a stand in this miscarriage of justice. If you want to join the fight for Rodney’s life, please sign the Innocence Project’s petition here and/or call Greg Abbott at (512) 463-2000, and ask to speak with a real person, not go to voicemail. We need to save Rodney’s life and if you feel so strongly about his existence and the trauma he’s endured, please join me in the fight for Rodney before November 20.