Update, November 16, 2019: A Texas criminal appeals court has halted the execution of death row inmate Rodney Reed indefinitely, The New York Times reports.
The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas on Friday sent the case back to the lower court where Reed was originally sentenced in 1998 for the murder of Stacey Stites to consider new evidence, including testimony from eyewitnesses.
The ruling came just hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to grant Reed a 120-day reprieve.
This story was originally published on November 4, 2019.
The campaign to free Rodney Reed, a Texas death-row inmate, is gaining new attention as his execution date draws near. Reed has spent more than two decades in prison for rape and murder, but new evidence and a botched trial suggest he might be innocent.
Ahead, everything you need to know about Rodney Reed's case and why people are protesting his execution.
Who is Rodney Reed?
Rodney Reed is a Texas man on death row for the 1996 rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Reed has always maintained he was wrongfully convicted, and with his execution date set for November 20, celebrities including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Meek Mill have signed an online petition and tweeted their support, urging Gov. Greg Abbott to “do the right thing” and grant Reed a stay while new evidence is considered.
The Innocence Project has warned that Texas is on the “verge of executing an innocent man,” citing an “enormous amount of evidence” in Reed’s favor including botched forensic testimony, racial bias, and the confession of the original suspect.
What happened to Stacey Stites?
Stites’ body was found in a wooded area of Bastrop, TX, on April 23, 1996. She’d apparently been strangled with her own belt, and DNA from an unknown male was found in and on her body.
Investigators initially suspected Stites’ fiancé, former police officer Jimmy Fennell. Fennell was the last person to see Stites alive and he failed two polygraph tests, but his DNA did not match evidence found at the scene. When DNA came back as a match to Rodney Reed, a Black man who said he was having a consensual sexual relationship with Stites, a white woman, investigators shifted their focus. Reed was convicted of rape and murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to death.
Fennell later served 10 years in prison for the 2007 rape of a woman who was in his custody when he was a police sergeant in Georgetown, TX.
Why are people protesting the execution of Rodney Reed?
Reed’s conviction has long been contentious. In 2015, CNN’s Death Row Stories devoted an episode to his case, after which his defense attorneys secured a stay of execution. In 2018 they filed appeals, requesting that the belt she'd been strangled with be tested for DNA (it has not been) and calling into question forensic testimony about the timing of Stites' death that implicates Fennell.
In October of this year, Reed’s attorneys filed an application for clemency in the wake of a new affidavit from Arthur Snow Jr., a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang and prison mate of Fennell. In the affidavit, Snow states that Fennell came to him for protection in prison and confessed to killing Stites as a way of gaining his trust.
“Jimmy said his fiancé had been sleeping around with a Black man behind his back… Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my [racial slur]-loving fiancé,'” Snow wrote in his affidavit.