A bipartisan group of more than two dozen Texas lawmakers, the European Union, a growing number of celebrities and more than two million petitioners have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to halt the scheduled execution November 20 of inmate Rodney Reed, amid growing evidence of his innocence.
Thirteen Republican and thirteen Democratic state legislators sent a letter to Abbott Tuesday, urging him to grant a reprieve.
“Granting Mr. Reed a reprieve until the new developments in his case are fully resolved will allow the cloud of doubt surrounding his guilt to be lifted,” the letter states.
Reed was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, with whom he was having an affair. Reed initially denied to police that he knew Stites. The prosecutor at his murder trial called his semen, recovered from her body, “the smoking gun” that pointed to his guilt.
Since the trial, new witnesses and forensic evidence have pointed to Reed’s innocence and implicate Stites’s fiance Jimmy Fennell, who was the primary suspect in the initial months of the investigation. In 2008, Fennell, a police sergeant, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a young woman while he was responding to a domestic disturbance. He served 10 years in prison and the victim settled a lawsuit with his department for $100,000.
Fennell and Stites lived together, and he said he last saw Stites when she went to bed the evening before the murder. He said he first learned the next morning that Stites had not arrived at 3:30 a.m. for her shift at a grocery store. Medical examiners placed the time of her death between 3 and 5 a.m., and prosecutors concluded that Reed had raped her shortly before.
In post-conviction proceedings, forensic experts called the prosecution’s theory at trial “medically and scientifically impossible.” Based on the semen evidence, they concluded that Stites had been murdered before midnight, a time when Fennell testified he was with her.
Witnesses have come forward describing violent and racist sentiments by Fennell, and recalling that he suspected Stites was sleeping with a black man. Notably, Arthur Snow, an inmate who was serving time in the same facility as Fennell, said in late October that Fennell confessed to him in late 2010 or early 2011, “I had to kill my [expletive]-loving fiance,” using a racial slur.
“As you know, the case that put Mr. Reed on death row has been called into serious question by compelling new witness statements and forensic evidence along with evidentiary gaps that could be filled with additional investigation and testing,” the lawmakers wrote, in the first official act of a newly formed bipartisan Texas House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.
Abbott’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Last week, the European Union ambassador to the United States Stavros Lambrinidis sent a letter to Abbott, reiterating the EU’s opposition to capital punishment.
“Evidence in Mr. Reed’s case casts substantial doubt as to his culpability,” Lambrinidis wrote.
Two separate petitions to stop the execution have gained millions of signatures.
More than 2 million people have signed a petition at FreeRodneyReed.com, which lists ways supporters can call Abbott and other Texas officials to ask to halt the execution. And a petition at Change.org has 330,000 signatures and counting as of Thursday afternoon.
“PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest. I URGE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING,” Kardashian West tweeted.
Reed’s attorneys Bryce Benjet and Andrew MacRae have asked the governor to halt Reed’s execution, and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Reed’s case, which would also halt the immediate execution.
“Whether you’re Kim Kardashian or you’re the guy next door, you’re not going to want the state of Texas executing someone who didn’t do it,” Benjet said.