USA - Texas. Rodney Reed files petition saying 7 new witnesses can exonerate him

15 November 2019 :

Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed files petition saying 7 new witnesses can exonerate him. Lawyers for Rodney Reed, 51, Black, set to be executed next week, said in a legal filing that testimony from seven new witnesses help to prove his innocence. Monday's filing with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, provided to CNN by the Innocence Project, lists 7 witnesses who have provided testimony that the court has not seen before -- four of whom provided sworn affidavits within the past few days. Reed was sentenced to death on May 29, 1998 in Bastrop County for the April 23, 1996 assault, rape and strangling of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. But Reed and attorneys with the Innocence Project say they have evidence that exonerates him and instead implicates Stites' fiancé at the time, Jimmy Fennell, who was a police officer. The case has drawn the attention of lawmakers, religious leaders and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna, and more than 2.8 million people have signed a petition on asking Gov. Greg Abbott to halt the execution, scheduled for November 20. The new witness affidavits, which come from neighbors, colleagues, and associates of Stites and Fennell, paint their relationship as abusive and difficult. There is also additional testimony that underscores the assertion that Stites was engaged in an affair with Reed. One witness attested that Fennell said something like, "You got what you deserved" while looking at Stites' body at her funeral service. The new testimony aims to refute the prosecution's portrayal of Fennell and Stites as a happy couple eagerly anticipating their upcoming wedding and further cast Fennell as a potential suspect in his fiancée's murder. Fennell was never charged in her death. His attorney, Robert Phillips, said his client denies any involvement in Stites' death, and he said the stories were lacking in credibility. "There's no evidence that's worthy of presenting even to a grand jury that Jimmy Fennell was somehow involved," Phillips said. The Innocence Project leads Reed's defense. The lead prosecutor for Reed's case maintains he is guilty and has said that DNA evidence from Stites' body proves it. "A large amount of credible evidence, including irrefutable DNA evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the pattern Rodney Reed followed in committing his other sexual assaults, show beyond a reasonable doubt that he raped and murdered Stacey Stites," Lisa Tanner said. But Reed's attorneys say his DNA was on Stites' body because they were engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. The Innocence Project noted that Reed, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury. The group also says the murder weapon was never tested for DNA evidence and that forensic experts admitted to errors in their testimony, and that a former prison inmate claims someone else confessed to the murder that sent Reed to prison. Bryce Benjet, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project, called the case a "miscarriage of justice". In 2008, Fennell pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in custody while he was an officer in Georgetown, Texas. A woman he detained when he was responding to a domestic dispute call accused him of rape. He was sentenced to 10 years. A former inmate who served time with Fennell said in an affidavit filed this month that Fennell confessed to killing Stites. "Jimmy said his fiancée had been sleeping around with a black man behind his back," wrote Arthur Snow Jr., who was serving a sentence for forgery in a Texas prison in 2010, in the affidavit. "Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, 'I had to kill my n*****- loving fiancée,'" he wrote. To this day, the murder weapon that was found near Stites’ body and matched the marks around her neck has never been tested for DNA evidence, though prosecutors say that it has been handled by so many people—from law enforcement to curious members of the jury—that such testing would be a waste of time. Aside from the sperm recovered from Stites’ body, there is no DNA evidence, fingerprints, hairs, or footprints that point to Reed at the abandoned truck or where Stites’ body was found. Prosecutors say that the sperm is all they need to prove Reed killed Stites. What happens now? Reed is one of 215 inmates currently on death row in Texas, which leads the nation in executions. During Governor Abbott’s five-year tenure, he has stopped only one execution out of 47, converting a death sentence to life in prison in 2018. As calls to halt Reed’s execution continue to come in by the day, it’s unclear whether Reed will become the second. The governor can also delay an execution for 30 days. With just one week until his execution, Reed is gaining new supporters every day. In an interview with NBC News just yesterday, Stites’ cousin Heather Stobbs said Reed deserves a chance to clear his name. “You can’t put somebody to death with all these questions,” she said. “The amount of questions coming out on a daily basis is unbelievable—and that’s what I find crazy.”


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