Innocence Project files petition with U.S. Supreme Court over Rodney Reed execution

Bastrop County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rodney Reed’s execution date is set for November, but his lawyers have filed a petition with the nation’s highest court to halt it. Reed insists he’s innocent of the 1996 murder for which he is convicted.

This latest petition asks the United States Supreme Court to review what Reed’s lawyers call “new and comprehensive evidence of innocence” that they believe proves another man strangled Stacey Stites. They also argue Reed’s constitutional rights were violated “by the use of invalid scientific evidence to convict.”

Reed’s attorneys have argued that while Reed’s DNA was linked to Stites’ case, it was because they had a secret and consensual relationship. Instead, attorneys say evidence points to Stites’ fiance at the time, Jimmy Fennell, as the one who likely killed her. Fennell, then a Georgetown Police Officer, was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for an unrelated crime.

A release from the Innocence Project, whose lawyers are representing Reed, said they are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to “correct constitutional errors created based on the discovery that (1) Fennell did not give a consistent account of where he was on the night Stites was murdered and (2) all of the State’s expert witnesses who supported the State’s theory that Reed raped and murdered Stites have withdrawn or modified those opinions.”

Stacey Stites_560705
Stacey Stites

It continued, saying that Robert Bayardo, the State’s medical examiner expert witness, has retracted his trial testimony that connected Reed to Stites’ murder and now “believes the forensic evidence corroborates Reed’s consistent defense that he and Stites were involved in a discrete sexual relationship, and that they were together about a day before Stites’s death.”

Bayardo’s record as a medical examiner has been called into question and he has recanted autopsy findings in several high-profile Texas murder cases.

Jimmy Fennell_114738
Jimmy Fennell

Other evidence lawyers want to bring forth includes a conversation between Fennell and another police officer in which Fennell said he had been out drinking the night before Stites died. They say that contradicts what Fennell told investigators and his trial testimony about spending a quiet night at home with Stites. Later, when questioned at a 2017 hearing about the inconsistency, Fennell pleaded the Fifth, asserting his right to protect himself against self-incrimination.

“The evidence supporting Reed’s innocence is uncontradicted and undeniable, and without the Supreme Court’s intervention, I fear the State of Texas may execute an innocent man,” said Bryce Benjet, Reed’s lawyer and senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project.

At the end of July, a Bastrop judge signed the order for Reed to be executed Nov. 20, noting Reed has tried to appeal and overturn his conviction eight times in the past 20 years. Bastrop County Criminal District Attorney Bryan Goertz said July 22 “the state has petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals to deny the most recent Reed motions because they are improper and without merit,” in response to an earlier filing to stop the execution date from being set.

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