US Supreme Court denies Rodney Reed’s DNA testing appeal

Crime
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(KXAN File Image)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The United States Supreme Court rejected Rodney Reed’s petition on Monday for further DNA testing of crime scene evidence that Reed said could prove his innocence.

Reed, who was sentenced to death in the 1996 Bastrop County murder and sexual assault of Stacey Stites, has continually maintained his innocence. Reed’s execution was paused just days before he was set to be put to death in 2015. 

Bryce Benjet, Reed’s attorney, said his team hoped the Supreme Court would immediately take up the constitutional issues raised by the rejection of DNA testing, but there is a separate civil action that can be taken in U.S. District Court for federal review of DNA.

“We intend to pursue this remedy in the federal courts so that this important evidence can finally be tested,” Benjet said Monday in a statement.

In his denied petition to the Supreme Court, called a writ of certiorari, Reed argued for further DNA testing of evidence, such as the belt used to strangle Stites. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had already rejected Reed’s request for such testing, but Reed’s defense said that rejection violated his due process rights and rights to access to the courts.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Reed’s defense said the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals used an “unfair and novel interpretation” of the chain of custody requirement that included a “lack of contamination element” that does not appear in the criminal code, according to the petition.

The defense also said the state used an “arbitrary and fundamentally unfair interpretation” of the criminal code’s “unreasonable delay” element, which says a court may grant DNA testing so long as the request is not made to delay the execution of a sentence or administration of justice. Reed’s defense argued he has not tried to unreasonably delay proceedings, and he sought DNA testing in 1999 and 2014, according to the petition.

For years Reed has pointed to Stites’ former fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as the likely killer. Fennell was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2008 for a separate, unrelated crime. As a Georgetown police officer, Fennell was accused of raping a woman in his custody. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in custody and was released from prison on parole in March.

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