Death Watch: Reed Appeal Rejected at 5th Circuit

Lawyers consider next move

Death Watch: Reed Appeal Rejected at 5th Circuit

Just over a month after it considered oral arguments in the case, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 10 rejected the latest appeal from Rodney Reed, on death row for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites.

Reed was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 19-year-old Stites, whose body was found by the side of a country road near Bastrop in 1996. DNA from semen found inside Stites connected her to Reed, though no other physical evidence from the scene or from inside the car she was driving when she was allegedly abducted, connected Reed to the crime. Reed claims the DNA was deposited more than a day before her death as part of an ongoing and consensual relationship, conducted behind the back of Stites' jealous and volatile fiancé Jimmy Fennell Jr., then a Giddings police officer.

Rodney Reed
Rodney Reed (Photo by Jana Birchum)

In this appeal, Reed's attorneys were asking for the right to further pursue an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, related to his attorneys' failure to effectively challenge the "temporal" link between the sperm found in Stites and her time of death. At trial, the jury was given the incorrect assertion that sperm could only survive intact for roughly 24 hours, which, if true, would counter Reed's assertion that he and Stites had sex more than 24 hours before she died. In its ruling, the 5th Circuit judges denied that the issue wasn't vetted at trial. "[T]he fact that Reed's sperm was in Stites is undisputed," Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote for the panel. "The need to explain that fact drives Reed's efforts to show that he and Stites were engaged in a clandestine sexual affair." But he has not done so, the court ruled.

The court also denied Reed's actual innocence claim, as well as his arguments that the state failed to disclose certain evidence favorable to Reed – including evidence to suggest that Fennell, now in prison for raping a woman while on duty as a cop, was a far more likely suspect in her death.

Reed's attorney Bryce Benjet said he is disappointed by the ruling, which fails to acknowledge that none of the state's witnesses at trial now support their assertion, at trial, that Stites was raped "at or near the time of her death," he wrote in an email. "To the contrary, the State's primary forensic witness [former Travis County Medical Examiner] Dr. [Roberto] Bayar­do now believes that the evidence suggests intercourse at least 24 hours before death," he continued. "Our claim is that the jury should have heard this compelling forensic evidence" and that U.S. Supreme Court precedence requires that the case be sent back to district court for consideration. "However, the ... panel wrongly refused [to] allow further consideration of this evidence of Reed's innocence."

Benjet said Reed's lawyers are considering their next move, which could include appealing to the entire 5th Circuit for reconsideration or an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We also continue to investigate the case and will pursue every option to uncover the truth in this case."

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

The Chronicle has covered Rodney Reed’s case for nearly 20 years. For more, visit our Rodney Reed archive.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More News
AE's Solar Deal: 'Game Changer'
AE's Solar Deal: 'Game Changer'
Recurrent Energy price could lower energy rates

Nora Ankrum, July 4, 2014

Morrison to Mayor: 'It's Not Personal, It's Policy'
Morrison to Mayor: 'It's Not Personal, It's Policy'
Leffingwell refuses to give up Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Planning Org. seat

Amy Smith, July 4, 2014

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014


News, Rodney Reed, Stacey Stites, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas death row, Death Watch, Jimmy Fennell Jr., Carolyn Dineen King, Bryce Benjet, Roberto Bayardo, U.S. Supreme Court, SCOTUS

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle