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Judge Denies Retrial For Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed, Convicted Of 1996 Texas Murder

Rodney Reed has long maintained his innocence in the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. 

By Jax Miller
Rodney Reed Ap

Amidst calls for a new look into the murder conviction of a man on death row, a Texas judge says no to a retrial.

Judge J.D. Langley recommended that Rodney Reed, 53, not be granted a new trial in the case of Stacey Stites, 19, who was raped and murdered in 1996, according to court records. Langley stated that Reed “has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent.” 

In light of Langley’s decision on Sunday, the case will return to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, who will ultimately decide whether or not Reed will be retried.

“The court has extensively considered the entire record of this case from its trial through the 10-day evidentiary hearing, at which the court was able to observe witnesses and assess their credibility concerning Applicant’s claims,” according to Langley’s recommendation. “The court recommends that relief sought by the Applicant be denied.”

Langley’s decision is a disheartening one for advocates who have long-supported Reed’s innocence, including celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian West, and Rihanna. According to the Innocence Project, there is “substantial evidence” that Reed was wrongfully convicted, evidence that points to the victim’s then-fiancé as a likelier suspect.

The body of Stacey Stites was found dumped on the side of a rural Texas road in April 1996. She was raped and strangled to death with a belt found at the crime scene.

Reed’s case was largely founded on DNA evidence collected from Stites’ body, but Reed, along with corroborating witnesses, claimed his DNA was there because he and Stites were having an affair. The Innocence Project cites several reasons as to why Reed shouldn’t have been convicted, including failure to have the murder weapon tested for DNA, the state’s experts’ admission of inaccurate testimony, and a racially-charged trial.

According to the New York Times, Reed’s lawyer, Jane Pucher of the Innocence Project, stated their team offered “numerous witnesses who had absolutely no motive to lie or misremember or exaggerate anything in Rodney’s favor.”

Many of the witness testimonies point the case back to Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell. In 2019, Fennell allegedly confessed to Stites’ murder to a prison cellmate, claiming, “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée,” according to an affidavit.

Fennell was serving 10 years in prison for a sex crime and kidnapping at the time, according to NBC affiliate KXAN.

“In general, the Court finds Fennell’s testimony credible and gives it full and proper weight,” stated Langley in the 50-page document.

But others don’t agree with Langley’s recommendation.

“If a new jury heard the overwhelming evidence of Rodney Reed’s innocence, it would have reasonable doubts,” Pucher said in a statement cited by the New York Times. “Convicted by an all-white jury, Mr. Reed has spent 23 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.”

Reed was granted a stay of execution in 2019, just days before his scheduled lethal injection, as previously reported. Reed’s post-conviction team filed an application for clemency, alleging suppression of evidence and false testimony in Reed’s 1998 trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was satisfied with the findings and granted Reed’s application.

A ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a new trial has yet to be scheduled.

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