AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jimmy Fennell, an original person of interest in the 1996 murder of his fiancé Stacey Stites, is set to be paroled and released from prison on March 9. He is finishing a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to separate crimes of kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in his custody.
Fennell, 45, was accused of raping a woman under his arrest in 2007, when he was a Georgetown police officer. However, it has been Fennell’s ties to Stites, and the high-profile capital murder case of Rodney Reed, that have kept him in the spotlight for years.
Fennell was approved for parole on Feb. 23. He is set to be released on mandatory supervision on March 9 from the Hunstville Unit, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records.
Reed has always maintained his innocence. For years, his legal team has pointed to Fennell as Stites’ true killer.
Stites was found dumped on the side of a rural Bastrop County road in April of 1996. She was 21. Reed was convicted of raping and strangling Stites as she made her early morning commute from Giddings to a Bastrop grocery store, according to court records. At the time of her death, Stites was days away from marrying Fennell, a rookie Giddings police officer at the time.
Reed’s defense team has worked for years to expose new evidence that, they say, undermines Fennell’s alibi and alters the time-of-death estimate prosecutors used to convict Reed. Reed’s team says forensic evidence shows Stites died earlier than portrayed at trial, and Fennell could have killed her in their apartment.Reed was granted a week-long hearing in Bastrop District Court last October. Numerous witnesses — including former friends, law enforcement, Stites’ mother and a forensic expert — were called to testify about the case and events on the afternoon and evening prior to the killing. The defense sought to weaken the state’s case, but many witnesses said their memories of an April day in 1996 were hazy at best. The visiting judge overseeing the hearing recommended the State Court of Criminal Appeals not grant Reed a new trial.
The visiting judge’s decision is not final. Reed’s attorney Bryce Benjet said he is “confident that [Reed] will be vindicated.”
Fennell was called to testify at the hearings, but he said in a written statement that he would invoke the Fifth Amendment and was ultimately not called into the courtroom.