Rodney Reed appeal denied by state’s highest criminal court

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(KXAN File Image)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday dismissed death-row inmate Rodney Reed’s latest application for relief that sought to overturn his 1997 murder conviction on the grounds that scientific expert opinions used at trial was false and have since changed.

The appeals court also denied relief Reed sought following a 2017 hearing in Bastrop County that included new testimony and evidence presented by the defense.

Reed was convicted of killing Stacey Stites and dumping her body on a rural Bastrop County road in 1996. DNA from the Stites case matched Reed, but Reed said he had a consensual and clandestine relationship with her.  Reed’s case has garnered national attention as his defense team, led by Innocence Project attorney Bryce Benjet, has uncovered new evidence, found new witnesses and cast doubt on the state’s case and critical forensic evidence used at trial.

Stites was set to marry Jimmy Fennell, a Georgetown police officer, at the time of her murder. Fennell was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for an unrelated crime. He was accused of raping a woman in his custody but pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Benjet said a wealth of new evidence shows Fennell was the actual killer.

You can read Benjet’s full statement on the decision, which includes a list of newly discovered evidence in the case, here

“Newly discovered evidence has contradicted every aspect of the state’s case against Mr. Reed,” Benjet said in a statement. “The Court of Criminal Appeals’ denial of Mr. Reed’s case simply cannot be squared with the compelling and uncontradicted evidence of his innocence.  Although we are still reviewing the opinion, this is by no means the end of the case.”

The appeals court said Reed failed to show his claims weren’t, or couldn’t have been, presented in a previous application. The court also said Reed had previously presented one of the current exhibits: a 2012 declaration by former Travis County chief medical examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo, whose questionable track record was the subject of a KXAN investigation.

Reed did not show by “a preponderance of evidence that that but for a violation of the United States Constitution no rational juror could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the order states.

Benjet said the appeals court decision is subject to review by the United States Supreme Court, and Reed could present his constitutional claims to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Reed’s legal team has fought for years to overturn Reed’s conviction and get him a new trial. He was scheduled to be put to death in March of 2015, but the execution was paused with just days to spare.

Reed has unsuccessfully pushed to get pieces of evidence tested for DNA, including the belt used to strangle Stites. Benjet said Reed would “enforce his constitutional right to DNA testing through a federal civil rights lawsuit.”

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