In 2007, then Georgetown PD Sgt. Jimmy Fennell, Jr., kidnapped a 20-year-old woman he'd encountered while on duty and answering a call, telling her he was going to give her a ride to meet up with her boyfriend. Instead, he took her to a park, slammed her against the rear quarter-panel of his patrol vehicle, pulled out his gun, put it by her head, and raped her.
After he finished his assault, he told her she'd better keep her mouth shut – or else, when he was released from prison, he would "hunt me down and he would kill me," the woman recalled for filmmaker Ryan Polomski, in an interview to be included in an as-yet-unfinished follow-up to his 2006 documentary, State v. Reed. The woman, who has never been publicly identified, told Polomski, in a phone conversation recorded earlier this month, that she does not believe it was the first time Fennell had done such a thing. They were in a public park, in plain sight, and he was not nervous; he was aggressive and angry, but also at ease. "He didn't act like it was his first time being mean and hateful toward a woman," she said. "He was angry, especially when I told him no. It made him mad, extremely mad.”
In fact, she said, his demeanor before, during, and after assaulting her led her to believe he might be capable of much more violence – including the 1996 murder of his then-fiance, 19-year-old Stacey Stites. "Absolutely; absolutely I do, 120%, based off of what Jimmy Fennell, Jr. has done to me and the experience I went through with him, I think that man is more than capable of murder," she said.
Stites was murdered in April 1996. Her body was found by the side of a country road near Bastrop. DNA from semen found inside her belonged to Rodney Reed and on the basis of that match, officials concluded that while on foot he somehow abducted her as she drove from Giddings to Bastrop to work an early shift at the H-E-B. He then raped and murdered her and dumped her body. Notably, aside from the DNA, there was no other physical evidence linking Reed to the crime. Reed was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death in 1998.
Reed has maintained that he was actually involved in an affair with Stites just before she died, which would in theory explain the DNA. Reed's supporters (among them friends of Stites') argue that Fennell – who, they propose, found out about the affair and was enraged – is a far more likely suspect, one never fully considered by investigators. Police never searched the apartment Stites and Fennell shared, though it was the last place she was reportedly seen alive, and they had returned to Fennell the pickup truck she'd allegedly been driving the morning she disappeared before thoroughly processing it for evidence.
Questions about Fennell's possible involvement in the crime have grown more earnest since the 2007 rape. In the aftermath of that incident, additional evidence came to light that several other women had made complaints about Fennell assaulting or stalking them while on duty. Additionally, a man named Keith Tubbs told Georgetown police that Fennell's then wife, with whom Tubbs worked, told him that Fennell had abused her, that she was afraid of him, and that she was concerned about his possible involvement in Stites' death.
Polomski's followup to State v. Reed, which premiered at SXSW in 2006, will explore the additional evidence. To date, state and federal courts have been unimpressed by the new evidence and have denied each of Reed's appeals.
In 2008, Fennell pled guilty to reduced charges in connection with the rape of the 20-year-old and was sentenced to 10 years in prison; he is scheduled for release in September 2018. That alarms his 2007 victim, who recalls that he threatened to kill her if she reported the rape. "I am scared for him to be released," she said. "All I can picture is a gun to my head and the last thing he said to me."
Copyright © 2016 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.