WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, who claims untested crime-scene evidence will help clear him.
Reed was sentenced to death for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.
Reed has long maintained that her fiancé, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is Black. Fennell, who served time for sexual assault and was released from prison in 2018, has denied killing Stites.
The justices will take up the case in the fall. The issue is whether Reed waited too long to ask for DNA testing of items recovered from and near Stiles’ body, clothing and items found in or near Fennell’s truck.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Reed, stating that his request was outside of the statute of limitations. But, his attorneys point to a different decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in another case.
The statute of limitations is the same length either way, but the Supreme Court will be weighing when exactly the clock starts ticking.
“The state is arguing, and the Fifth Circuit held, that the two years starts running when the District Court tells you no, that you’re not entitled to have that [DNA] evidence tested. [Reed’s] arguing that well, when I appeal that ruling, until that ruling is appealed, we have a final decision on that ruling, that’s when the two years starts running,” Kenneth Williams, a professor at the South Texas College of Law, explained Monday.
The high court’s decision will have implications for all post-conviction DNA sampling requests going forward.
“If they were to side with the 11th circuit, and Mr. Reed, that would mean that inmates all sorts of inmates would have much greater opportunities and avenues to have DNA tested. Whereas if they started with the Fifth Circuit, it would mean it would be pretty restricted,” Williams said.
Jane Pucher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, and the entire Reed legal team put out a statement Monday stating in part:
“Texas and the Texas courts have refused to allow DNA testing of key crime-scene evidence, including the ligature handled by the perpetrator in the commission of the crime. And when Mr. Reed sought access to DNA testing in federal court, the federal courts wrongly threw out his claims as untimely, reasoning that he could have started his federal action while the state-court proceedings were still pending. We look forward to having the Supreme Court consider our arguments.”The Innocence Project & Rodney Reed’s attorneys
KXAN has reached out to the state’s attorneys to request comment but has not yet heard back.
Even if the Supreme Court were to side with Rodney, he would still have a long battle ahead of him.
“It’s not going to mean that he’s gonna get released from death row or from prison immediately if SCOTUS rules in his favor. It’s just one step in the process of having this evidence considered,” Williams said.