AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted death-row inmate Rodney Reed an indefinite stay of execution and said the judge whose assignment in the case had been called into question in recent weeks can continue to work on the case.
The court’s order says three of the four claims Reed’s defense listed in the Nov. 11 application to stay his execution satisfy requirements that allow it to go back to a lower court. Reed was convicted of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites and has been fighting ever since to get a new trial.
According to the order, the court says the lower court will need to consider the defense’s claims that:
- The state suppressed exculpatory evidence
- The state presented false testimony in violation of due process
- Reed is actually innocent
The Court of Criminal Appeals said Judge Doug Shaver “continues to sit by assignment” for the case, but he may choose to discontinue that assignment. KXAN reported earlier this week that Shaver had written a letter to the Texas Supreme Court Aug. 9 informing them he was retiring. There was supposed to be a hearing in Reed’s case on Wednesday, but confusion over which judge had jurisdiction in the case led the Court of Criminal Appeals to cancel it so it could gather more information.
The Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, said in a statement it was “extremely relieved and thankful” for the ruling.
“This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence,” it wrote.
Roderick Reed, Rodney’s brother, reacted to the news, telling KXAN’s Alex Caprariello two minutes after he found out that he’s thankful for the stay, saying it will give them time to prepare to get Rodney a new trial.
“We have no idea when a new trial will begin but it gives us time to breathe and regroup, and we thank God for that.”
Rodney’s brother said that in his heart he felt that Nov. 20 could not be the day because “the truth is out there” and the world has become aware of Rodney’s case and is standing up for him. Roderick said:
“We want to continue to get the word out and let people know that my brother is still out there and we just have a little more time to bring him home.”
Other actions in the Reed case Friday
Earlier on Friday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also voted unanimously to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott grant a 120-day delay on Reed’s execution.
Abbott would still have been able to approve or reject the recommendation for the execution, which was scheduled for Nov. 20. He would also, however, have the option to direct another action regarding the execution.
On Friday, Lydia Clay Jackson, one of Reed’s attorneys, reacted to the news, saying:
“I’m very pleased the Parole Board found that it was in Texas’s best interest, and the interest of justice for Rodney [Reed] to get the 120 days. I am confident that Bryce [Benjet of the Innocence Project] will be able to persuade the court that he should be exonerated or granted a new trial. Because if the worse happens, Texas will have executed an innocent man.”
Reed — and the Innocence Project, which recently filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to stall the execution — say more DNA testing will prove he did not kill 19-year-old Stacey Stites 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.
“It’s funny how quickly good news can travel,” said Andrew McRae, who has represented Reed in the past, on Friday. “I’m still holding my breath because the Governor has the final say, and so he needs to take some action before I can exhale. I’m pretty overwhelmed at the moment. It was announced via an e-mail from the clemency director and I had to hold my breath while I clicked on it. I had to hold my tears when I read it and understood it.”
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.
On Friday, Carol Stites, Stacey’s mother, in a comment to KXAN, offered two Bible verses as her statement. Those verses are below:
“These things also belong to the wise. To show partiality in judging is not good.”
“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. “
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.
Fennell was later accused of raping a woman in his custody while he was a Georgetown Police Office in 2007. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges, served 10 years in prison and was released in 2018.
Last month, a former inmate said Fennell confessed to killing Stites because she was “sleeping around with a black man behind his back.”
In a statement to KXAN on Friday, Robert M. Phillips, an attorney for Jimmy Fennell, said:
“It’s a sad day for Texas justice that the Board of Pardons and Paroles has ignored the overwhelming evidence of Reed’s guilt, including his SEVEN rape victims, several who testified in his 1998 trial — two of whom he sexually assaulted on the very same road that Stacey Stites was traveling the morning she was strangled and murdered. Hopefully, Governor Abbott won’t be as reckless and gullible, and will thoroughly review Reed’s horrific career of murder, sexual violence (his youngest victim was a 12-year-old girl) and lies. The credible evidence and the chorus of Reed’s seven rape victims cry out for no further delays in this monster’s execution.”
On Nov. 9, protesters gathered at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin in an effort to halt the execution, days after death row exonerees delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to intervene.