Jimmy Fennell, an original person of interest in the 1996 murder of his fiancé Stacey Stites, is a free man again after serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in his custody.

Fennell was approved for parole on Feb. 23. He was released under mandatory supervision on Friday just before 1 p.m. from the Huntsville Unit.

“Jimmy’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,” said Fennell’s attorney, Robert M. Phillips.

Debra Oliver, Stites’ sister, said, “I guess in a way, part of him died that day too, you know? His life has never been the same.”

She continued, “After she was found, he was heartbroken and I’m the one who really sat with him a lot and held his hand.”

Fennell, 45, went to prison for raping a woman in his custody 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 involving Rodney Reed, that have kept him in the spotlight for years.

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.

“Of course [Jimmy] continues to profess his innocence. He loved Stacey Stites. He was engaged to be married to her and the individual who raped and murdered her is properly on death row,” Phillips said. “Rodney Reed was convicted by a jury of twelve. He’s failed in any number of appeals to convince various judges of both technical and substantive problems with his case and that’s because he richly deserved the sentence that he got.”

Stites’ cousin, Heather Stobbs, doesn’t agree with her family on Fennell. “Someone’s gotta pay for it. And so, who’s that going to be? If not Reed, who? That leaves Jimmy.”

Reed was granted a week-long hearing in Bastrop District Court last October. 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.

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.