Rodney Reed

Image copyright
AFP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice

A court in Texas has halted the execution of Rodney Reed, convicted for murder, in a case that has attracted huge public attention in the US.

Reed has been 21 years on death row for a 1996 murder. He was due to die by lethal injection on 20 November.

More than 2.9m people signed an online petition urging clemency. Celebrities Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Gigi Hadid have spoken in his support.

Reed says he is innocent. His lawyers say fresh evidence proves that.

He was convicted of the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, who was found strangled after failing to turn up for work

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Reed’s scheduled execution.

The decision came shortly after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a 120-day reprieve for the inmate.

The board also rejected his request to commute his sentence to life in jail.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West was with Reed when he received news of his stay of execution.

She told her followers on Instagram that words could not “describe the relief and hope that swept over the room in that moment”.

Innocence Project, an organisation which has been working on the case, also welcomed the appeal court’s ruling.

What happened to Stacey Stites?

The 19-year-old was due at work early in the morning of 23 April.

She never turned up to the grocery store in Bastrop, near Austin.

Within a few hours, the truck she drove was found abandoned.

By that afternoon her body was discovered. She had been strangled with her own belt.

Investigators found a very small amount of sperm cells – three in total – in her vagina.

The semen came from a young black man, Rodney Reed.

Police had his DNA on file because he had been investigated – but found not guilty – over a different sexual assault case.

He claimed that he was having a secret relationship with Stacey.

What is the evidence?

The murder weapon was never tested for DNA. None of Reed’s fingerprints were found on the truck Stacey was driving.

The case against him was mainly built around his semen.

He said he’d had consensual sex with Stacey the day before she was killed.

Expert witnesses told the murder trial that could not be true.

They argued that sperm could not possibly have survived in Stacey’s body for so long.

Instead, they believed that she must have been raped shortly before being murdered.

This was enough for an all-white jury to convict Reed.

Reed’s lawyers have been fighting to change this and have submitted new evidence (Warning: Contains upsetting material).

The evidence focuses partly on the claims by forensic witnesses in the original trial that sperm could not survive for more than a day after sex.

One of those medical experts, Dr Roberto Bayardo, has put out a sworn statement explaining that he is now aware that sperm can stay intact for days after death.

And so, he says, there is no evidence that Stacey Stites and Rodney Reed had anything other than consensual sex.

Prison cell confession?

Stacey was engaged – due to marry a white former policeman called Jimmy Fennell.

But now witnesses have come forward with statements about the couple’s relationship.

One woman talks about him saying that if his girlfriend ever cheated on him, he would strangle her.

Image copyright
CBS Austin

An insurance salesperson remembers Jimmy Fennell threatening to kill Stacey Stites if he ever caught her “messing around” on him.

Another statement comes from a former policeman.

He says he remembers Jimmy Fennell looking at Stacey Stites’s body at her funeral and saying something about her getting what she deserved.

Jimmy Fennell went on to serve years in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting another woman. He was released in 2018.

One of the new witnesses is a man who was in jail with him.

Arthur Snow was the leader of a white supremacist prison gang. He claims that Jimmy Fennell told him that his fiancee had been sleeping with a black man behind his back.

In a sworn statement he says: “Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n-word-loving fiancee’.”

What does Jimmy Fennell say?

His lawyer, Bob Phillips, says there is “absolutely not a scintilla of merit” in this claim.

He told CBS Austin that Arthur Snow is a “career criminal” who is “trying to save his own scalp”.

He also calls the other new witnesses “laughable” and questions why they waited so long to come forward.

He maintains that it’s “absolutely untrue” that Stacey Stites was having an affair with Rodney Reed.

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