FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 14, 2019
by Royce West
Next week, November 20, 2019, Rodney Reed could become the next person to be put to death by the State of Texas. But there are enough circumstances and facts - old and new - surrounding the case that I, along with a number that's growing daily, believe strongly that Nov. 20 should come and go while Rodney Reed remains alive.
In a case that has now attracted national and international attention, Reed was convicted of abducting, sexually assaulting and killing 19 year-old Stacey Stites, whose body was found road-side in Bastrop County, on April 23, 1996. Reed was sentenced to death two years later. Aspects of his case have been appealed up, down and through state and federal courts, even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.
Questions have been asked regarding whether Reed received a fair trial; if evidence that appears obvious went without proper examination, could another person be responsible for Stites' murder and whether or not race played a role, either during the investigation or at the trial stage.
So many questions have gone without satisfactory answers that it is now clear that the fate of Rodney Reed will not fade quietly into the night. They ring so loudly that last week, both chambers of the Texas Legislature, in bipartisan fashion, have appealed to Texas Governor Greg Abbott to at least delay Reed's execution date. My signature is one of 16 Texas state senators who signed-on, petitioning the governor on Reed's behalf. Even one of Texas' two U.S. Senators thinks further judicial scrutiny is warranted.
Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to the governor requesting a stay of execution. I did so because I'm convinced that salient questions surrounding Stites' death and Reed's death sentence have not been answered.
Undisputed evidence says that the victim's belt was used to strangle her, causing death. Parts of it were found near where her body was recovered. Other parts were found where the truck of her ex-fiance, ex-Georgetown policeman, Jimmy Fennell Jr. was abandoned. But 23 years later, the belt has never been examined for DNA evidence. Right now, that fact is central to one of two appeals filed by lawyers representing Reed that await rulings from federal courts.
Only DNA evidence collected from the victim ties Reed, now 51, to the case. Expert testimony during Reed's trial stated that the evidence helped establish when Stites, who was white, died, placing Reed where the body was discovered. Since that time, the medical examiner said his testimony was in error after new forensic testing revealed that the body fluids found could have backed Reed's defense that he had consensual sex with the victim at least a day before the day she was murdered. Other evidence presented by Reed's attorneys that resulted in a stay of execution granted in 2015, indicated that Stites' body had been moved from where she was killed.
Since Reed's 1998 trial, a number of persons familiar with Fennell, who later served 10 years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman he picked up while on duty, have come forward with accounts of statements Fennell made implicating him in Stites' death. Some come from members of law enforcement. Still, Bastrop County Criminal District Attorney Bryan Goertz has remained adamant in defending Reed's conviction, while citing other sexual assault charges that have been filed against him and blocking requests to test the likely murder weapon.
Although the clock steadily ticks toward Nov. 20, hope persists. Last week, I requested to meet with Gov. Abbott to discuss a case whose circumstances and questions will be part of the historical record of how justice is administered in Texas. I await his reply.