The race to prove a Texas man’s innocence is on full throttle as time ticks down toward his November 20 execution date for a 1996 murder he insists was committed by the victim’s fiance – an ex-cop who was just released from prison last year for kidnapping and raping a woman in his custody.
The Reed Justice Initiative, with the support of the Innocence Project, has garnered so much attention since Rodney Reed was convicted and placed on Death Row in 1998 that athletes, celebrities and even cops have joined the fight to save his life.
“There are so many pieces of evidence that haven’t been tested, haven’t been looked at, expert witnesses have changed their testimony,” Williamson County Deputy Constable Deke Pierce told CBS Austin. “Like I said, I could go on and on about all the things wrong with this case.”
Stacey Stites, Jimmy Fennell’s fiance, was found dumped on the side of the road 23 years ago and deemed to have died from strangulation. Reed was named a suspect and ultimately convicted for her murder due to his semen being found on her body, but multiple witnesses have confirmed that was because they were in a consensual sexual relationship.
An insurance salesman who wished to stay anonymous submitted an affidavit in September stating he heard Fennell threaten to kill Stites if he ever caught her cheating on him — which she was.
“In November 1995, I struck up a conversation with Stacey at the lodge hall and asked her if she would be interested in applying for a life insurance policy. She agreed to fill out an application, and...made the remark, ‘I really don't know why I need life insurance since I am so young.’ In response to that comment, Jim, in my presence, told her ‘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.’ I remember it well because of the tone of voice that he used. It was not presented as a joke. That concerned me and still concerns me today, because I took it as a threat on her life.”
The Innocence Project wrote Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week in a plea for a 30-day reprieve which would push Reed's execution back a month and allow time for another trial. In the letter, two people who knew Fennell personally corroborated his concerning behavior.
One fellow officer "heard Fennell brag at a law enforcement training class that he would strangle his girlfriend with a belt if he ever found out she was unfaithful." Another woman, Fennell's ex-girlfriend, "described him as extremely prejudiced toward African Americans as well as controlling and abusive."
Charles Wayne Fletcher, who was a local officer 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.
Fletcher quit the Bastrop Sheriff’s Office that same year and eventually left the Bastrop area all together. At the time, he feared speaking out about what he thought of Fennell since he still had family that lived in the area and “did not want any negative action to come to them if it is perceived that I am against local law enforcement.”
As for the murder weapon? The belt was never tested for DNA evidence which is why so many people question the validity of Reed’s conviction. Judges consistently ruled against the testing because it would be an “unreasonable delay,” according to Judge Doug Shaver.
But according to Pierce and 12 other officers who filed a legal brief Monday, “While [the criminal justice system and rule of law] often means holding wrongdoers accountable, an equally important goal of the justice system is to avoid punishing the innocent.”
They're urging the Supreme Court to intervene before “the quintessential miscarriage of justice” is committed by executing an innocent man.
Kim Kardashian West, who has recently taken a legal interest in advocating for the wrongly convicted, tweeted Gov. Abbott earlier this month urging him “to do the right thing.”
Jim Clampit, a third witness who was a former deputy for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and knew Fennell personally came forward as well. Clampit said he knew Fennell from around town and while he didn’t know Stites personally, he still paid his respects at her funeral.
“I distinctly remember standing in the doorway to the viewing room next to Jimmy Fennell,” Clampit wrote in his affidavit earlier this month. “Jimmy was looking at Ms. Stites. At that moment Jimmy said something that I will never forget. Jimmy said something along the lines of, ’You got what you deserved.’ Jimmy was directing his comment at Ms. Stites's body. 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 fiance.”
In a letter to Gov. Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the anonymous insurance salesman pleaded, “Please do not allow our state to become known for killing innocent people.”
A Texas man also represented by the Innocence Project was executed in 2004 for allegedly setting his house ablaze, killing his three daughters. Similar to Reed’s case, Cameron Todd Willingham always maintained his innocence and investigators found the evidence used against him to not be credible, but Texas executed Willingham anyway.
As for Fennell, after he was released from his nearly 10-year stint in prison last March, his attorney said he's "looking forward to resuming his life with his family in a quiet and peaceable environment having paid for the crime that he actually did commit.”
Click here for the full backstory on Reed's case. Even Dr. Phil has gotten involved as you can see in his interview with Reed in the videos below.