With New Evidence, Lawyers Challenge Death Sentence

Lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed, convicted in 1998 for murdering 19-year-old Giddings cashier Stacey Stites, say new evidence proves his innocence. They're asking courts to take another look at his case.

Death row inmate Rodney Reed (l.), scheduled to be executed on March 5, 2015, and Jimmy Lewis Fennell. Fennell is the former fiance of Stacey Stites, who Reed was convicted of murdering. Fennell was later convicted of rape and kidnapping of a 20-year-old Williamson Co. woman.

Lawyers for Rodney Reed on Thursday asked a Bastrop County court to consider new witness testimony and forensic evidence they claim proves the 47-year-old death row inmate, scheduled for execution next month, is innocent. A copy of the petition was also given to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which is likely to ultimately receive the appeal. 

Reed’s attorneys filed affidavits with the Bastrop County District Clerk’s Office from three out-of-state forensic examiners who claim that Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old Giddings cashier, was likely killed hours earlier than previously thought and that her body was moved after she was killed. 

If true, those findings significantly challenge the timeline prosecutors used to convict Reed of Stites' murder during his 1998 criminal trial.  

“We have filed three affidavits by three well-credentialed forensic pathologists ... all of whom who have concluded that the state's theory of the crime is medically and scientifically impossible,” Andrew MacRae, one of Reed's attorneys, said at a news conference in Austin, where they expect the case to eventually land.

The state's theory of the crime, MacRae said, was that Stites was abducted, raped and murdered early in the morning of April 23. But the affidavits put the time of death the night before, on April 22.

Reed, who is scheduled to be executed in Huntsville on March 5, has said he is innocent. He has said he was having an affair with Stites, who was engaged to former police officer Jimmy Lewis Fennell Jr., who has since been convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a 20-year-old Williamson County woman. Reed’s attorneys also filed affidavits from two new witnesses who verify Reed’s affair with Stites.

Fennell has testified that he and Stites were together the evening of April 22.

Fennell and Reed have declined Texas Tribune requests for interviews.

Last November, Reed’s motion for expanded DNA testing of evidence in his capital murder trial was denied by a state district judge in Bastrop County.