BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — A lower court will examine testimony in the case of Rodney Reed that casts doubt on an alternate suspect’s alibi, following an opinion issued Wednesday by the State Court of Criminal Appeals.
In 1998, a Bastrop County jury convicted Reed of sexually assaulting, strangling and dumping the body of Stacey Stites along a rural road. DNA evidence found in Stites matched Reed, but Reed has maintained his innocence and says the two had a clandestine sexual relationship. Reed’s defense team has pointed to another man, Stites’ former fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as the possible killer.
Now, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has remanded part of Reed’s writ of habeas corpus application, which includes testimony that casts doubt on Fennell’s whereabouts the night of the murder, back to the Bastrop trial court for further factual development, findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Fennell, a Giddings police officer at the time of the murder, testified he was at home the night before and morning of Stites’ killing.
“That testimony was recently contradicted by Fennell’s close friend, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis,” according to a prepared statement by Reed’s defense team. “In an on-camera interview, Davis recounted that he was with Fennell the morning of April 23, 1996, after Ms. Stites had been reported missing. Importantly, Fennell confided to Davis that he had been out drinking the night before and came home late.”
Fennell is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for kidnapping and having an improper sexual encounter with a woman in his custody, while he was a Georgetown police officer. The woman accused Fennell of rape.
In the same May 17 opinion, the Appeals Court dismissed Reed’s claims for relief based on new scientific evidence from medical experts that called into question the time of death estimate put forward by the state at Reed’s trial. The defense also presented an affidavit in which the original medical examiner that conducted Stites’ autopsy, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, recanted some key findings and said prosecutors misconstrued facts.
Reed’s defense said the court’s “refusal to consider this compelling evidence is a mistake,” and they would seek a review in federal court.