A divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday issued a stay of execution for death row inmate Rodney Reed so new evidence can be considered that Reed's attorneys say proves their client's innocence.
Reed, 47, was set to be executed on March 5. Six of the court's nine judges voted for the stay. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Lawrence E. Meyers dissented, and Judge David Newell did not participate in the decision.
"We’re extremely relieved that the court has stayed Mr. Reed’s execution so there will be proper consideration of the powerful new evidence of his innocence," said Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project who is Reed's attorney. "We are also optimistic that this will give us the opportunity to finally conduct DNA testing that could prove who actually committed the crime.
Reed's attorneys on Feb. 13 asked the court to consider new witness testimony and forensic evidence they say proves 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.
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If true, those findings significantly challenge the timeline prosecutors used to convict Reed of Stites' murder during his 1998 criminal trial.
The Bastrop court denied the stay, moving the case to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
At the time of trial, the state's theory of the crime was that Stites was abducted, raped and murdered early in the morning of April 23. But the new affidavits filed by Reed's defense team put the time of death the night before, on April 22.
Reed has said he was having an affair with Stites, who was engaged to former police officer Jimmy Lewis Fennell Jr., but did not kill her.
Fennell has since been convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a 20-year-old Williamson County woman. At Reed's trial, Fennell had testified that he and Stites were together the evening of April 22.