Rodney Reed Gets Execution Stay, New Hearing

New witnesses, debunked forensic evidence, and DNA testing to be considered in 2020


On Nov. 15, days before Rodney Reed was to be put to death, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped his execution, handing his attorneys a big win and triggering jubilation from family and supporters. The decision came shortly after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended to Gov. Greg Abbott that he delay the execution. Reed's attorney Andrew MacRae wept at the news from the parole board and was moved again when he learned of the CCA's action. "Friday was a day of cascading emotion," he said.

The events capped weeks of mounting interest in Reed's case from celebrities, lawmakers, religious groups, and millions online. Many asked that his sentence be thrown out, but the CCA instead ordered a hearing to be held in the Bastrop courtroom where Reed was originally tried; it will likely get underway by the spring of 2020. A judge will look at Reed's claims that he is innocent and that prosecutors both suppressed exculpatory evidence and presented false testimony. The judge will then recommend for or against a new trial. (Senior Judge Doug Shaver, who has presided over actions in Reed's case since 2014, has made known his intentions to retire for good and step aside from the case; a replacement has not been named.)

Reed, an African American man, was sentenced to death in 1998 by an all-white jury for the rape and strangulation of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. He was convicted after his semen was found in Stites' body, but claimed the two had been having an affair. Many have speculated that Stites' fiancé, police officer Jimmy Fennell, was her actual killer.

A retrial has long been the goal of MacRae and Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, who filed motions in multiple courts in recent weeks before the stay, presenting testimony from eight new witnesses. Taken as a whole, the new testimony supports Reed's contention that he and Stites were having an affair and casts Fennell, who later served 10 years for kidnapping and raping a woman in his custody while on duty, as racist and dangerous. One of the witnesses, Aryan Brotherhood gang leader Arthur Snow Jr., says Fennell confessed to Stites' murder to him when both were in jail.

MacRae notes that three of the new witnesses were police officers at the time of Reed's trial and were bound by oath to report what they knew about Fennell to prosecutors, who should have then turned the information over to the defense. "So much of it had to do with Mr. Fen­nell that it would have changed the cross-examination of Mr. Fennell dramatically," MacRae said, "and might have even caused him not to testify at all."

The upcoming hearing will also look at the forensic evidence the state presented in the original trial, testimony crucial to the conviction that his attorneys say has since been debunked. The CCA's ruling was sufficiently broad that it will allow Reed's team to present all the arguments they've gathered in the last five years, Benjet said. It is still unknown whether Reed's attorneys will succeed in getting the belt used to murder Stites tested for DNA. They filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in August over various courts' refusal to allow the test; a ruling may come down in time for the hearing. MacRae has said that he and Benjet may subpoena Fennell. He does not rule out the introduction of more new witnesses.

With the execution halted for now, Reed's family can take a minute to catch their breath. Reed's mother, Sandra, and brother, Rodrick, worked tirelessly in recent weeks, organizing rallies of supporters and speaking to news organizations on a daily basis. Like Benjet and MacRae, their goal has always been a retrial. "If he gets a fair trial, he'll be home with us," Sandra Reed told reporters.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 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  

READ MORE
More Rodney Reed
Rodney Reed's Appeals: Key Players
Rodney Reed's Appeals: Key Players
Ignored witnesses, “irrelevant” evidence, and more from two decades of appeals

Brant Bingamon, Nov. 15, 2019

The Family of Rodney Reed Keeps His Story Alive
The Family of Rodney Reed Keeps His Story Alive
At rallies and in media appearances, Sandra and Rodrick Reed are the public face of the cause

Brant Bingamon, Nov. 15, 2019

More Death Watch
Death Watch: Without Intervention, Travis Runnels Will Be the Ninth Texan Executed in 2019
Death Watch: Without Intervention, Travis Runnels Will Be the Ninth Texan Executed in 2019
A troubled life, a dishonest witness, a “changed man”

Brant Bingamon, Dec. 6, 2019

Death Watch: No Chaplain Needed Now in Murphy Case
Death Watch: No Chaplain Needed Now in Murphy Case
Texas Seven member faces execution on Nov. 13 for a second time

Brant Bingamon, Nov. 8, 2019

More by Brant Bingamon
BREAKING: Rodney Reed Granted Stay of Execution
BREAKING: Rodney Reed Granted Stay of Execution
Citing new evidence, CCA remands case to Bastrop trial court

Nov. 15, 2019

As Millions Demand Justice, Texas Prepares to Take Rodney Reed's Life
As Millions Demand Justice, Texas Prepares to Take Rodney Reed's Life
Looking back at a long road of injustice for the death row inmate

Nov. 15, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rodney Reed, Death Watch, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Greg Abbott, Andrew MacRae, Doug Shaver, Stacey Stites, Jimmy Fennell, Bryce Benjet, Innocence Project, Arthur Snow Jr., Rodrick Reed, Sandra Reed

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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