BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Family and supporters of Rodney Reed gathered Saturday afternoon in Bastrop County to honor his birthday — his 24th since he’s been behind bars after he was convicted in the 1996 rape and murder of Stacy Stites.
Reed, who will turn 53 on Dec. 22, was scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20, 2019, but the Texas Court of Appeals granted a stay at the last minute — as Reed continues to maintain his innocence and the case attracted nationwide calls to stop it.
For decades, Reed and his family have maintained that he did not kill 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop in 1996. Stites, a bride-to-be who worked at H-E-B, was found dumped on the side of a rural road north of Bastrop after a search that began when she didn’t show up for work that morning.
While Reed was not looked into initially, he became a suspect when investigators ran his DNA as part of a separate alleged sexual assault case that was later dropped, the Reed defense says.
Authorities said Reed’s DNA matched evidence found in the Stites case, and he was arrested and charged with capital murder in 1997.
Reed claims he had a secret and consensual relationship with Stites, which explains the DNA match. Reed’s legal team has continuously pointed the finger at Stites’ then-fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, as the killer. Investigators considered Fennell a suspect, prior to Reed’s DNA match.
Last year, several new witness statements surfaced, including one by Arthur Snow, who previously served time in prison with Fennell. Snow claimed, “Jimmy said his fiancé had been sleeping around with a black man behind his back… Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*-loving fiancé.’”
In February, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Reed’s appeal, but left the door open to hear one in the future if his 10th application for appeal was acted on. It was still pending at the time it was presented to the high court for consideration, while Reed’s eighth and ninth appeal applications were ruled on by lower courts.
Reed’s next appeals hearing is scheduled for May 17.
Mother Sandra and brother Rodney spoke at the event, called “Not Another Birthday Behind Bars: Free Rodney Reed!”