Rodney Reed’s attorneys at the Innocence Project have been very busy in recent weeks advocating for their client, who is scheduled for execution on Nov. 20. Their most recent action came Wednesday, when they filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites but has a strong case of innocence. In recent weeks new evidence has emerged that focuses suspicion for the murder on Jimmy Fennell, Stites’ fiancé at the time and the only other suspect in the case. Fennell was released from prison in 2018 after serving ten years for the kidnapping and rape of a woman in his custody while working as a police officer in Georgetown in 2008.
The application submitted by Reed’s attorneys asks the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend to Gov. Greg Abbott that he commute Reed’s sentence in light of new evidence, including a just-released affidavit by Fennell’s fellow prison mate and Aryan Brotherhood member Arthur Snow.
In the affidavit, Snow says Fennell approached him in 2010 at the Stevenson Unit in Cuero, wanting the protection of the Aryan Brotherhood, and they cut a deal. He recounts a conversation he had with Fennell as the two walked the track at the Stevenson rec yard. “He was talking about his ex-fiancée with a lot of hatred and resentment,” Snow says. “Jimmy said his fiance had been sleeping around with a black man behind his back…. Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n----r-loving fiancé.’ My impression was that Jimmy felt safe, even proud, sharing this information with me because I was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.”
Snow’s affidavit is the fourth released by the Innocence Project in recent weeks, each of them tending to demonstrate that Fennell was not one to exercise the greatest discretion. On Oct. 21, Charles Wayne Fletcher, a police officer who knew Fennell and Stites and socialized with them, released an affidavit that described an incident from March 1996, a month before Stites was murdered. “I remember clearly that Jimmy said he believed Stacey was ‘fucking a n----r,’” Fletcher says. “I remember he said those words because I was disturbed by them.” Fletcher goes on to describe Fennell as cold and emotionless at Stites’ funeral.
The Innocence Project released two other affidavits on Oct. 4. In the first, a witness tells of signing Stites up for life insurance as Fennell stands beside them. Stites wonders why she should get life insurance at such a young age (she was 19 at the time of her murder). The affidavit reads, "In response to that comment, Jim, in my presence, told her, '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.' I remember it well because of the tone of voice that he used. It was not presented as a joke."
In the second affidavit, Fennell is attending Stites' funeral with a colleague in the Giddings Police Department, where he then worked, and the two are gazing down at Stites in the coffin. "At that moment," says Fennell's colleague, "Jimmy said something that I will never forget. Jimmy said something along the lines of, 'You got what you deserved.' Jimmy was directing his comment at Ms. Stites's body. I was completely shocked and floored by what Jimmy said.”
In addition to this petition for clemency, Reed’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his case; in support of that filing, a group of Texas law enforcement officers filed an amicus brief with SCOTUS on Monday. (The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Reed's motion for a stay of execution on Wednesday.) Reed’s advocates have also asked Abbott to grant a reprieve to allow for investigation of new evidence in the case, including both these new witnesses’ affidavits and the long-sought, yet-to-be-conducted DNA testing of the presumed murder weapon (a leather belt used to strangle Stites).
Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.