true crime

After 2.8 million people signed a petition, Rodney Reed's execution has been delayed.

This article was originally published on November 6, 2019, and was updated on November 17. 

A Texas court has delayed the execution of Rodney Reed after nearly three million people signed an online petition requesting clemency.

Many celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Gigi Hadid and Dr Phil, had all signed the petition to halt the execution, which was scheduled for November 20.

Kardashian, who is studying to be a lawyer, wrote on her Instagram on Saturday, “Today, I had the honor of meeting #RodneyReed in person and the privilege of sitting with him when he got the news that the highest court in Texas had issued a stay of execution and remanded the case back to the trial court for further consideration.”

So who is Reed and why are so many people convinced that he’s innocent?

Reed has been on death row in Texas for more than two decades, since being convicted of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites.

Stites was just 19-years-old when she was strangled. Her body was found in a wooded area near Bastrop, Texas, on April 23, 1996. Her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, who was then working as a police officer, said she had left their apartment in the early hours of that morning, driving his pickup truck, to go to work.

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Reed in prison. Image: Social.

Police initially suspected Fennell of the murder. He was questioned and failed two lie detector tests. But the police’s suspicions shifted when they found sperm inside Stites’ body. DNA testing matched the sperm to Reed. Police already had Reed’s DNA because he’d previously been charged with sexual assault (and acquitted).

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At first, Reed claimed he didn’t know Stites. But when he was put on trial for her murder, he said he’d been having an affair with her, and they’d had sex the day before her death, which explained why his sperm was found inside her. Experts called by the prosecution made the claim – since disputed – that Reed’s sperm could not have survived 24 hours in her body. This boosted the prosecution’s case that Reed had raped Stites and then strangled her.

Even though there was no other physical evidence to connect Reed to Stites’ murder, the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death.

Over the years, journalists have raised questions over Reed’s murder conviction. A 2002 investigation by the Austin Chronicle revealed there were at least 10 people who were witnesses to the affair between Reed and Stites.

"Everyone knew," Reed’s lawyer Jimmy Brown told the Chronicle. "The people who worked with her knew; they confirmed it unofficially. None would come out with it, because we are talking about a white woman who was having sex with a black man in Bastrop – and then she's dead. But there is no question they knew about it."

In 2007, Stites’ former fiancé Fennell, who was still working as a police officer, kidnapped a young woman he’d met on duty. He put a gun to her head, raped her, and then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. He was sentenced to 10 years’ jail.

The renowned Innocence Project took on Reed’s case. Their website lists 10 “key facts” about it, beginning with, “The murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence,” and “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.”

Despite numerous appeals, Reed has remained on death row.

Last month, a man called Arthur Snow came forward. A former leader of a white supremacist prison gang, he had been in the same prison as Fennell in 2010. In an affidavit, Snow said that Fennell had been talking about his former fiancée with “hatred and resentment”, and had said she had been “sleeping around with a black man behind his back”.

"Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, 'I had to kill my n-----loving fiancée,'" Snow added.

Just days ago, Stites’ cousin Heather Stobbs told a Texas TV station that she believed Fennell, not Reed, was the real killer.

“There is really nothing that can convince me that Jimmy Fennell didn’t do this,” Stobbs said.

However, Fennell’s lawyer, Bob Phillips, has told CBS News that Stites’ mother and sisters still believe Reed is guilty. He has cast doubt on Reed’s claim of an affair with Stites.

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"Where are the love notes? Where are the photographs?" he asks. "Where is one piece of corroborating evidence other than people coming out of the woodwork 20 years after the fact?"

Kim Kardashian West is throwing the weight of her celebrity behind Reed. She has addressed Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a tweet, “PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest. I URGE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING.”

Reed’s mother Sandra has maintained her son’s innocence all along.

“There is no proof,” she said last year. “All that remains is the age-old prejudice that a white girl wouldn’t be involved with my son.”

Today, writer Elizabeth Gilbert threw her weight behind the campaign, urging people to sign the petition.

 

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In 11 days, a man named Rodney Reed is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas for a crime he didn’t commit. Reed (a black man) was arrested in 1996 for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites (a white woman, with whom he was having a consensual relationship.) There’s a mountain of evidence to support the fact that the actual murderer was Stites’s estranged fiancé,Jimmy Fennel, Jr — a white police officer with a history of violence, who was enraged at his girlfriend for her relationship with Reed, and who said at her funeral: “She got what she deserved.” (Fennel is now is prison for the kidnapping and violent sexual assault of another woman.) But Rodney Reed was convicted of this crime over twenty years ago by an all-white jury. His innocence is upheld by forensic evidence and by multiple witnesses. His case has been taken up by The Innocence Project, and, as of today, two dozen Texas legislators (including over a dozen Republicans) have called upon Governor Greg Abbot to halt the execution order. (This is unprecedented in Texas history.) In the last few weeks, over 2 million people have signed a petition to the governor, demanding that Reed’s execution be stopped. Oprah Winfrey spoke out about it this week. There will be a protest march in Austin this weekend. Please join this fight. This is not the first time that the state of Texas has executed an innocent black man, or refused to look at new evidence that could exonerate prisoners on Death Row. This was a racist arrest, a racist conviction, and if Reed is executed in 11 days, it will be the racist murder of an innocent man. Please click the link in my bio to sign the petition. Please follow the journalist @shaunking, who is a fierce leader in this fight. You do not need to be a Texas resident to participate in this protest. Rodney Reed needs us. Take a moment out of your day and help. I have to believe there’s a chance that Governor Abbot will halt this execution, but we need to put the pressure on him. He’s stopped executions before. I pray for Rodney Reed, but let’s not just pray: let’s sign the petition and make the phone calls. Instructions are simple; click the link. Thank you.

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What do you think? Do you believe Rodney Reed is innocent? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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