Reed Defense DNA-Deprived?

A citizen sleuth raises new charges in the Stacey Stites murder case.

In a document filed Nov. 8 with the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office, Elgin resident and citizen sleuth David Fisher charges Lisa Tanner, a special prosecutor with the State Office of Attorney General, and Charles Penick, Bastrop Co. District Attorney, "with conspiracy to commit fraud on the citizens of the State of Texas and its Institutions." Fisher contends that Tanner and Penick deliberately withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from lawyers for Rodney Reed, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 Bastrop murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.

At issue is a May 13, 1998, DNA report ordered for the defense by District Judge Harold Townslee. The report sought to determine the origin of DNA found on two Busch beer cans lying by the side of the road near Stites' body, found on April 23, 1996. The samples did not match Reed's DNA, but Dept. of Public Safety Criminologist Wilson H. Young found that the samples could not exclude two other suspects: Giddings Police officer David Hall and Bastrop Police officer Ed Samela. As reported by Smithville Times reporter Tyanna Tyler, however, the DNA test results never made it into the hands of defense attorneys Lydia Clay-Jackson and Calvin Garvie.

In fact, the only person to receive a letter containing the results was Tanner, who was trying the case alongside Penick. Since Texas has no reciprocal discovery laws, this would be a clear violation of Reed's rights to a fair trial.

Reed's family sought to address the issue earlier this year during an evidentiary hearing before Judge Townslee on March 15. As reported in the Smithville Times, Reed's attorneys hoped their client would be granted a new trial. However, Townslee finally ruled in October that Reed's attorneys had failed to demonstrate that the additional DNA evidence would have affected the trial outcome.

Stacey Stites was reported missing on April 23, 1996, after failing to show up for work at the Bastrop HEB. The pickup truck she was driving, which belonged to her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell Jr. (a former Giddings police officer), was found in the parking lot at Bastrop High. Her body was discovered that afternoon on the side of a narrow county road. The case went unsolved for nearly a year, until DNA from semen found in the body was matched to Rodney Reed. While prosecutors claimed Reed abducted, raped, and strangled Stites, the defense claimed Stites was having an affair with Reed and that someone else -- possibly Fennell -- had actually committed the crime.

Travis Co. Assistant D.A. Mary Farrington of the office's Public Integrity Unit declined to comment specifically on the complaint Fisher filed with her department. "We review all the complaints we get," she said. "That's all I can tell you." As of press time, neither Tanner nor Penick could be reached for comment. Fisher, who has been researching the Stites murder for almost a year, is convinced Tanner and Penick deliberately hid the DNA evidence from the defense to ensure a conviction. "[The] Defense would have [had] a 'Perry Mason' moment at the expense of the State," he wrote in his official complaint. "The State would not be able to undermine their own agency's [DPS] findings and the Jury would have been left with more than reasonable doubt."

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