WASHINGTON (KXAN) — The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning regarding the case of Rodney Reed, a 54-year-old Texas man who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacy Stites, who was killed in Bastrop 26 years ago.
Reed has sat on death row for 24 years but has maintained his innocence since he was convicted. He argues the DNA testing of certain items related to Stites’ murder, including the belt used to strangle her, would exonerate him.
The arguments the Supreme Court listened to Tuesday morning were mostly related to court procedures. The high court needs to determine when the statute of limitations clock started ticking.
Reed’s lawyers argued it should not have started until the Court of Criminal Appeals denied his request for DNA testing in 2017. Conversely, Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz argued the clock should have started when Reed’s lawyers’ request for testing was denied in trial court in 2016.
In Texas, the statute of limitations is two years for a civil rights claim.
Though this case is quite narrow in scope, the court’s decision will have implications for all future post-conviction DNA testing requests.
For Reed, if his representation was successful in convincing SCOTUS to side with them, the State of Texas would be compelled to conduct more DNA testing.
The attorney representing Reed, Parker Andrew Rider-Longmaid, argued Reed’s right to due process was violated by Goertz, when he decided not to perform DNA testing on more pieces of evidence related to Stites’ murder.
“It is Goertz the respondent here, who’s a district attorney, who is giving effect to that interpretation by continuing to deny DNA testing without due process of law,” Rider-Longmaid said.
On the other side, Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone, representing the state of Texas, argued Reed failed to file a federal appeal within the statute of limitations window following a state judge’s ruling against his request for DNA testing in 2016.
“States are best served by having defined dates that are not manipulable by individuals who are seeking to extend the length of their claims as long as possible,” Stone said.
Stites was killed the morning of April 23, 1996, on her way to work at a Bastrop H-E-B. Jimmy Fennell, her former fiancée’s, red Chevy truck was found abandoned in the parking lot of Bastrop High School. Her body was found later that afternoon on a rural road outside of Bastrop.
Representatives from the state argued Reed and Stites had no relationship, and he, alone, kidnapped, raped and murdered Stites that morning. Some DNA evidence was found that linked Reed to Stites.
Reed later said he had a secret relationship with Stites which would have explained the DNA evidence found in Stites.
Reed, instead, alleges it was Fennell who killed Stites.
“He raised evidence that Fennell admitted to killing Stites because he discovered she was sleeping with a Black man (Reed); that Fennell threatened to kill Stites if he caught her cheating; that Fennell made inculpatory statements at Stites’ funeral and that Fennell and Stites’ relationship was fraught,” Rider-Longmaid said to the Supreme Court.
Reed’s execution was indefinitely stayed in November 2019.