The case of Rodney Reed, a Texas man facing execution, has made headlines across the nation in recent weeks as millions of people signed online petitions calling for the courts to take another look at the case.
Texas’ highest criminal court halted Reed’s execution on Nov. 15, sending the case back to the trial court to review several claims, most importantly that Reed is innocent of the murder that landed him on death row more than two decades ago.
Earlier that day, the Texas Observer reported, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole—a seven-strong panel of gubernatorial appointees—issued a unanimous recommendation to Governor Greg Abbott that he grant a 120-day stay of Reed’s execution.
This was an extremely rare move for the board, according to Kristin Houlè, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Ultimately, Abbott did not get to decide on the recommendation. Just hours later the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals referred the case back to the trial court to examine new evidence and reconsider key parts of the case, including Reed’s innocence.
Reed’s case attracted enormous attention with many lawmakers and even A-list celebrities making a case for the execution to be put on hold.
Reed is now 51. He was convicted and given a death sentence for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop.
He claimed his innocence for more than two decades. His claims were backed up by new evidence from his lawyers. Last week, they presented evidence indicating Reed’s innocence in Stites’ death. That evidence instead placed suspicion on her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.
The Texas Tribune reported both Reed and Fennell were accused of multiple sexual assaults. Reed was indicted but never convicted, in other rape cases. Fennell spent 10 years in prison following the kidnapping and alleged rape of a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007.
Police found the body of Stites partially unclothed in Bastrop County after she failed to show up to her grocery store job. Court records showed Fennell’s truck was found abandoned in a school parking lot near the murder scene. Pieces of Stites’ belt, believed to be used in her strangulation, were found at both locations.
Fennell was the original suspect. Reed fell under suspicion a year later when sperm cells that matched him were found in the victim’s body. Reed said he had a consensual affair with Stites. His lawyers said this theory was discredited because Reed was an African American man in rural Texas and Stites was white. Reed was convicted by an all-white jury.
Reed was scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20 before the ruling by the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals.
The nonprofit Innocence Project, which has fought for Reed in his effort to avoid execution, tweeted that the court granted a stay of execution that was “indefinite.” The ruling was posted to the court’s website.
The case will now be reviewed and subject to a new trial. The highest court in Texas has halted many executions in recent years but the Lone Star State continues to use the death penalty more than any other.
If you or a family member is facing a capital murder charge or is looking to appeal a conviction please contact our experienced Dallas criminal defense team today.