Until last week, Rodney Reed was scheduled to walk into Texas' death chamber and be executed Wednesday.
But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took the execution off the calendar Friday, issuing a stay and sending his case back to the trial court to further review claims that Reed is innocent of the murder that landed him on death row more than two decades ago.
The 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop — and Reed's subsequent conviction after sperm cells in her body matched to his DNA — is a well-known case in Texas. Reed and his lawyers at the Innocence Project maintain that he had a consensual affair with Stites but did not kill her. They have argued this assertion was discounted largely because he is a black man and Stites was a white woman, and such relationships in rural Texas in the 1990s were uncommon. Stites' family and Bastrop County prosecutors have denied the existence of such a relationship, saying DNA evidence in other rape cases pegs Reed as a serial rapist who killed Stites.
As Reed's most recent execution date neared, his lawyers presented more evidence and witnesses they say clear Reed in Stites' murder and instead put suspicion on her fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Fennell has also been accused of multiple sexual assaults, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a kidnapping and alleged rape while he was on duty as a police officer more than a decade after Stites' death. In recent months, doubts of Reed's guilt grew, with a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers, numerous A-list celebrities and millions of people signed on to online petitions calling for Gov. Greg Abbott or the courts to stop his death.
The Court of Criminal Appeals did so Friday, and Reed's case will go through a new legal process in the local court where he was convicted.