Attorneys for Rodney Reed, a Texas inmate slated for execution next month, have asked Governor Greg Abbott for a 30-day reprieve from execution citing new evidence and “grave doubt concerning his guilt.”
In a 14-page letter sent Monday, The Innocence Project attorney Bryce Benjet and attorney Andrew MacRae presented new information that, they say, refutes the state’s case against Reed and further implicates the victim’s fiance Jimmy Fennell. They also asked Abbott to instruct the Board of Pardons and Paroles to determine whether Reed should receive a commutation.
Reed is one of 25 people sentenced to die despite serious doubts about their guilt whose cases are being examined in a new Injustice Watch project, Unrequited Innocence.
Reed was convicted and sentenced to death for the April 1996 murder of Stacey Lee Stites, 19, who was engaged to Fennell, then a rookie police officer. Though Reed’s semen was found on Stites’s body and the two had been having an affair, he initially denied knowing her to police. At trial, the prosecution called the semen “the smoking gun” that indicated his role in her murder.
Fennell, who was initially the prime suspect in Stites’s murder, pleaded guilty a decade later to sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman while he was responding to a domestic disturbance call. The victim reached a $100,000 settlement agreement with his department, and several other women came forward with similar allegations against him. Fennell served a 10-year prison sentence and was released in March 2018.
At trial, the state posited that Reed sexually assaulted and strangled Stites within a two-hour window without leaving any DNA, hair or fingerprints in the car she had been driving. Forensic experts whose testimony about Reed’s semen implicated him in the crime have since recanted the timeline they presented. And several independent forensic experts have ruled out the state’s timeline – that Stites was killed in her car – and instead believe she was “likely killed hours earlier, when she was alone in her apartment with Fennell,” Reed’s attorneys wrote.
“No expert from the State has contradicted these opinions,” they wrote.
Since Reed’s November 20 execution date was set, three new witnesses have come forward with incriminating information on Fennell, according to Reed’s attorneys.
A former sheriff’s deputy, Jim Clampit, now says that he saw Fennell looking over Stites’s body at her funeral and whispering something along the lines of, “You got what you deserved.”
“The more I thought about it, the more I knew I would not be able to live with myself if I did not come forward,” Clampit said, according to Reed’s attorneys.
Charles Wayne Fletcher, who worked with Fennell at the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office, says that in March 1996, Fennell told him he believed Stites was having sex with a black man, though Fennell used strong language including a racial slur.
Fletcher, like Clampit, noticed Fennell’s “odd, emotionless behavior” at Stites’ funeral.
“I was so disturbed by his behavior that it caused me to question whether he was involved in Stacey’s death. I also chose to have no further interaction or communication with him,” Fletcher said, according to the attorneys’ letter
A third witness, unnamed in the letter, was an insurance saleswoman who discussed life insurance with Fennell and Stites in November 1995. After Stites wondered whether she needed life insurance at such a young age, the saleswoman remembered Fennell saying, “If I ever catch you messing around on me, I will kill you and no one will ever know it was me that killed you.”
Governor Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.