Texas Execution Appeals Texas Execution Appeals
Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP

Free Rodney Reed: 5 Things To Know About The Death Row Inmate's Case

Days before Reed's execution by lethal injection, his legal team, activists, and celebrities are calling for a halt as counsel seeks to re-examine evidence.

For 21 years, Rodney Reed has been on death row while fighting to prove his innocence. The now 51-year-old was convicted of murdering Stacey Stites on April 22, 1996. Reed, a black man, and Stites, a white woman, were in a consensual relationship although the latter was engaged at the time to former police officer Jimmy Fennell.

When Stites was killed, authorities discovered DNA that matched Reed's, leading the jury to find him guilty. Reed's legal counsel claims the DNA (semen) was a result of his and Stites' relationship. Also, the murder weapon, a belt, was never tested for DNA and his fingerprints were nowhere to be found.

Now, 16 days before Reed's execution by lethal injection, his legal team, activists, and celebrities are calling for a halt as counsel seeks to re-examine the evidence and present new witness testimonies to the court that might help to prove Reed's innocence.

Here are five things to know about Reed's case.

1. Rodney Reed Was Found Guilty By An All-White Jury

In 1998, Reed was found guilty by an all-white jury due to the discovery of his semen on Stites' body. His legal team stresses it was the result of a consensual relationship between the pair.

"None of them look like me but I...grew up in the military. I was a military brat...I figured that they would hear the evidence and know that I'm innocent," Reed said to ABC News. "Race played a big part. I didn't see it at first...I wasn't seeing racism like that." Stites' cousin and a co-worker supported Reed's testimony that the pair were in a consensual relationship.

According to The Statesman, the case was fast-paced and left Reed's defense counsel little to no time to present its side. Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell, was also a suspect. The news site reports he reportedly failed two polygraph tests on his location at the time of Stites' death but the jury zoned in on Reed after his DNA was found on Stites' body.

2. The Suspected Murder Weapon Hasn't Been Tested For DNA Evidence

The murder weapon, a belt, was never tested for DNA evidence and requests for its examination have been refused by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Innocence Project also notes the three forensic officials that testified revealed their testimonies had errors.

“So we're asking for DNA testing because it is a clear path where you can find additional evidence in this case," Bryce Benjet, senior attorney for the Innocence Project, said. "And the obvious thing that you would want to test is the belt, because that was the item used to strangle the victim. [It] was held in the hands of the murderer and that's very likely to have the DNA from the murderer."

The belt was reportedly used to strangle Stites before her body was found near a Bastrop County road in Texas.

3. Jimmy Fennell Served A 10-Year Prison Sentence For Kidnapping And Sexual Abuse

While on duty, former police officer Fennell reportedly kidnapped and sexually abused a woman, receiving a 10-year sentence. According to The Innocence Project's website, the organization states Fennell had a history of inflicting violence toward women.

While in prison, Fennell met an inmate named Arthur Snow Jr., who was a part of the Aryan Brotherhood gang. Fennell sought protection from Latino and Black inmates, so he attempted to befriend Snow according to a sworn three-page affidavit. Within the passage, Snow claims Fennell confessed to the murder and bragged about Reed's predicament.

"He was talking about his fiancée with a lot of hatred and anger," Snow stated. Race also came into the conversation when Snow claims Fennell believed Stites was "sleeping around with a black man." Snow is Reed's legal team's fourth witness in an attempt to halt his execution.

Fennell's lawyer, Robert Phillips, said his client denies any involvement in Stites' murder. According to The Statesman, other witnesses have claimed Fennell's questionable rhetoric, including a former Lee County sheriff's deputy who said during Stites' funeral, Fennell said "something along the lines of, 'You got what you deserved.'"

4. Texas Authorities Sought To Execute Reed In 2015

According to The Guardian, Reed was slated to be executed on March 5, 2015, but an appeal filed by his legal team granted a stay of execution as the counsel continued to gather its findings and examinations.

Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for Sister Helen Prejean (an advocate for the death penalty's abolishment), said to The Guardian that, “Racial discrimination infects the death penalty system as a whole and we see it in this case. It’s disturbing to see these kind of biases and prejudices that can ultimately cost someone their life.”

A lawsuit was also filed in 2019 on Reed's behalf that calls into question Fennell's recollection used in the case. “Prominent forensic pathologists have reached the un-rebutted conclusion that Fennell’s testimony that Ms. Stites was abducted and murdered while on her way to work around 3.30 a.m. is medically and scientifically impossible."

5. A Petition Calls For At Least 120 Days To Analyze New Evidence

Although the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Reed's stay of execution request, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to place attention to his plea. To recall an earlier claim, Fennell's differing recollections of his whereabouts at the time of Stites' death have also come into question.

According to Bastrop Sheriff's Officer Curtis Davis, Fennell first said he was out drinking. Then he claimed he was at the apartment he and Stites shared. Investigators noted that his last claim was actually the same time Stites was murdered.

The petition aims to place a stay on Reed's execution and garner the attention of Texas' Gov. Greg Abbott. A social media campaign, #FreeRodneyReed, began to pick up steam over the weekend, receiving support from Meek Mill, Rihanna, Questlove, T.I., and more. Reed's hope is to be granted a new trial.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP

Texas Appeals Court Grants Stay Of Execution For Rodney Reed Stay

A Texas Criminal Appeals Court granted Rodney Reed a stay of execution on Friday (Nov. 15). The decision came hours after the state’s parole board recommended that Reed’s lethal injection be delayed by 120-days.

Reed was scheduled to be lethally injected on Nov. 20. Although the court decision means that he no longer has an execution date, the parole board failed to approve a request to commute Reed's sentence to life in prison, the Washington Post reports.

The 51-year-old Texas native has spent that last two decades on death row for the1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. Reed has filed numerous appeals over the years but his story only recently went viral catching the attention of lawmakers and celebrities including Rihanna, Oprah, Beyonce, T.I., Kim Kardashian West, the latter of whom was visiting with Reed when his execution was delayed.

Reed, who has long maintained his innocence, says Stite's was killed by her fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Fennell’s lawyer Robert Phillips “laughed off” Reed’s allegations, according to numerous reports.

Fennell served 10 years in prison for the attempted kidnapping and rape of another woman while working as a police officer in 2007. He was briefly suspected in Stite’s murder. Authorities turned their attention to Reed after his DNA was found inside Stites, from what he contends was a consensual relationship. Reed, who is black, believes that race played a part in the case because Stites was a white woman. He was convicted by an all-white jury.

Reed’s legal team has also provided evidence to prove his innocence, including new witnesses.

"We’re happy that we’re going to have an opportunity to present the compelling evidence that Rodney Reed didn’t commit the crime," Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, who took on Reed’s case, told The Texas Tribune. "The Court of Criminal Appeals recognized the substance of this case and the need for a special hearing where all the evidence can be considered."

Continue Reading
Getty

Trailblazers Portrayed In 'Hidden Figures' To Receive Congressional Gold Medals

Engineers Mary Jackson and Christine Darden, mathematician Katherine Johnson and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughn are being honored with the highest U.S. civilian award.

The four trailblazers, three of whom were depicted in the film Hidden Figures, will receive Congressional Gold Medal, ABC News reports. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) helped introduce the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, a bipartisan bill signed by President Donald Trump last Friday (Nov. 8).

As the highest civilian award in the U.S., the Congressional Gold Medal recognizes those who have performed an achievement that has had a lasting impact on American history and culture.

Johnson, who celebrated her 101st birthday last summer, calculated trajectories for numerous NASA space missions beginning in the early 1950s. Vaughn, who died in 2008, led the West Area Computing unit for nine years, and was the first black supervisors at the national Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which later became NASA.

Jackson, who died in 2005, was NASA’s first black engineer. Darden became an engineer at NASA 16 years after Jackson and went on to “revolutionize aeronautic design.” She was also the first black person to be promoted to Senior Executive at NASA's Langley Research Center, and has also authored more than 50 articles on aeronautics design.

“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden made monumental contributions to science and our nation,” said Senator Harris. “The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA, helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long. I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”

Continue Reading
Courtesy of Crawford Family, WVLT

Authorities Release Grisly Details Of Alexis Crawford’s Murder

Alexis Crawford was strangled to death before her body was thrown in a trash bin, the Fulton Country Superior Court revealed in court documents released on Tuesday (Nov. 12).

Crawford died on Oct. 31, reports the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Four days earlier, the 21-year-old Clark Atlanta University senior filed a police report against her roommate, Jordyn Jones's boyfriend, Barron Bentley, accusing him of sexual assault. Crawford had a rape kit performed on her at a local hospital. Crawford's decision to go to police caused tension between her and Jones, which erupted in a physical fight.

“As a result of the physical altercation, Barron Brantley choked the victim until she was deceased,” the Atlanta Police Department said.

After killing Crawford, Jones and Brantley, both age 21, stuffed her body into a “plastic bin” and transported it to Exchange Park in Decatur, Ga., where they left her remains.

Crawford and Jones knew each other for at least two years, and became close while studying at Clark Atlanta. The Michigan native even visited Crawford’s family’s home during the holidays.

Brantley confessed to Crawford's murder and led police to her body last Friday (Nov. 7). Jones was arrested the following day.

Brantley and Jones are both charged with felony murder and are being held without bond.

Continue Reading

Top Stories