Texas Governor Greg Abbott has eight days left to decide whether he’ll listen to the thousands of protesters urging him to grant death row inmate Rodney Reed a reprieve that would push his execution date back by 30 days for a 1996 murder he says he didn’t commit.
Hundreds of Reed’s supporters, including the cousin of the victim, gathered at the Governor’s Mansion Saturday calling for action before Reed’s scheduled November 20 execution.
Even Texas politicians who rarely question the criminal justice system are asking for new evidence to be investigated before going through with the execution.
“We have a lot of executions, right? We’re Texas,” Republican state Rep. James White said, according to AP News. “This probably is the first one I’ve directly reached out to the attorney general’s office and the governor’s office on. Not on the prospect that I believe that Mr. Reed is innocent. But I do believe there is a lot of information and evidence that does deserve to be vetted.”
For 21 years, Reed has maintained his innocence in the rape and murder of his secret lover, Stacey Stites, asserting the finger should be pointed toward her then fiance, Jimmy Fennell, who was a Giddings police officer at the time.
Fennell – who later served nearly a decade in prison for raping a woman in his custody when he was a Georgetown police officer – was initially the prime suspect in Stites’ murder, records show, motivated by her relationship with another man.
However, Fennell was dropped as soon as Reed became one, based on his DNA being found in Stites’ body. But Reed insists his semen was only found inside her because they were in a consensual sexual relationship. Stites’ family and friends have even affirmed this was true.
One of several witnesses came forward recently, corroborating what Reed and his supporters have been saying all along: That the real killer is Jimmy Fennell.
Charles Wayne Fletcher, who was a local officer at the time and considered himself a friend of Fennell and Stites, wrote an affidavit stating in March of 1996, Fennell told him Stites was “f-cking a n----r.” Fennell and Stites are white and Reed is black. Stites’ dead body was found one month later.
Evidence Implicating Jimmy Fennell
Half of the murder weapon, the braided belt used to strangle Stites, was found near Fennell’s truck but never tested for DNA evidence. The other half of the belt was found near her body. Fennell even failed a polygraph test on the question, “Did you strangle Stacey Stites?” Even more chilling, Stites’ autopsy confirmed she was strangled to death.
The evidence incriminating Fennell doesn’t stop there. During the murder investigation, Stites’ decompositional fluid was not only coming out of her nose when her body was found, it was also on the floorboard of Fennell’s truck. Adding flame to an already engulfing fire of incriminating evidence, Stites was only wearing one sneaker when she was discovered. Guess where the other one was? Inside Fennell’s truck.
Another interesting piece of information was the driver’s seat belt in Fennell’s truck was buckled, as if someone buckled the belt first then sat down so the alarm wouldn’t sound. This is a common trend among officers to do, claiming wearing the belt may interfere with their gun or being able to get out of their patrol car as fast as possible, Geoffrey P. Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor, told the Washington Post in 2012.
So while prosecutors argued that Reed could have stolen the keys to Fennell’s truck to transport Stites’ body to the location where she was found, the only fingerprints ever found in the truck matched Fennell’s and Stites.
“They constructed a Jim Crow trial...for my brother to take this fall,” Roderick Reed, Rodney’s brother, said at a rally in Dallas in September.
A Call To Halt Reed’s Execution...At Least Temporarily
The Reed family have dedicated the past 21 years to raising awareness for Rodney and fighting for a chance at a fair trial – one with a jury of his peers, not just white people like he received during his original trial in 1998 – and one where the murder weapon is actually tested for DNA evidence.
There are very few issues Democrats and Republicans can agree upon nowadays but a reprieve for Reed is something 16 Texas senators found common ground on. In a bipartisan coalition, the senators signed a letter urging Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to “to allow these new leads [witness testimonies] to be properly explored.”
“Executing Rodney Reed without certainty about his guilt erodes public trust—not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself,” the letter said.
Even Republican senator and 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz tweeted out his support, saying “I believe capital punishment can be justice for the very worst murderers, but if there is credible evidence there’s a real chance the defendant is innocent, that evidence should be weighed carefully.”
In fact, the unity Reed’s case has brought not only extends through Texas politics, but worldwide. Countless celebrities, athletes, law enforcement officers, lawyers and even the European Union stand by Reed receiving the due process he was never afforded during his first trial.
“Evidence in Mr. Reed's case casts substantial doubt as to his culpability. Moreover, Mr. Reed is seeking DNA testing of evidence that has not been previously tested. Under these circumstances, we believe the state should not proceed with the execution without allowing for those tests. Taking the above considerations into account, Mr. Governor, we respectfully urge you to exercise all powers vested in your office to grant clemency to Rodney Reed.”
People are also posting on the governor's Facebook page, asking him to halt the execution.
Texas History With The Death Penalty
DNA testing the murder weapon has been a key issue Reed’s supporters have been fighting for, but for over 20 years now, judges have consistently ruled against it because it would be an “unreasonable delay,” Judge Doug Shaver said. Shaver was the same judge who signed Reed’s most recent execution order in July and retired a mere 17 days later due to not feeling competent enough to keep receiving assignments.
“I have been in fear that I would or would not do something that could affect the outcome of some important legal matter,” he wrote in an email on August 9.
Texas has consistently held its first place spot for the highest number of executions performed, having killed more than 500 people on death row since 1976. The next ranked state, according to deathpenaltyinfo.org, has performed over 400 executions less than Texas.
So far, Abbott has only granted clemency to one person on death row since taking office in 2015. And prior to that, only two other death row inmates were granted clemency in Texas history so the odds are stacked against him. But with the worldwide attention Reed’s case has garnered, his plea for a reprieve has surely reached Abbott’s ears. However, it is still unclear what the governor plans on doing about it.
And with the seconds ticking away towards the execution, Reed’s mother, Sandra Reed, remains hopeful but skeptical.
“This corruption started when John Connor was attorney general, when Bush was the governor,” Sandra said right outside of Abbott’s gate during Saturday’s protest. “The very people who took an oath to serve and protect decided to do nothing when it was obvious that something was wrong.”