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Former death row inmate Rodney Reed, who claims he was wrongfully convicted in the decades-old murder of a white woman, appeared in court this week as his lawyers provided new evidence in his case.
More than a year and a half after his execution was halted, Reed’s attorneys presented new evidence in court Monday, which they insist will clear him in the 1996 slaying of Stacey Stites.
Reed was convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder two years after Stites was killed. He was 28 at the time.
In November 2019, Reed received a stay of execution days before he was scheduled to be killed by the state via lethal injection. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had also recommended his execution be delayed.
Prior to the decision, Reed’s case drew national attention, including pleas from celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Meek Mill, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian West, to commute his sentence. Supporters also protested outside Gov. Greg Abbott’s mansion.
Reed’s lawyers then argued the state buried crucial evidence and also presented false testimony. The Court of Criminal Appeals will now examine whether those claims hold merit.
Reed previously admitted to having an affair with Stites and that he had consensual sex with her a day before her death but denied involvement in her killing. His semen was found in Stites’ body following her death. Prosecutors, however, used that DNA evidence to convict him.
Reed’s attorneys have long pointed to Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as Stites’ murderer. Fennell, Reed’s legal team contends, confessed to the killing while serving time in prison on a separate charge. Fennell has refuted the allegations.
On Monday, Reed’s defense team painted the former couple’s relationship as abusive and toxic.
The first defense witness, forensic pathologist Andrew Baker, called the prosecution’s time frame of the killing “unjustifiably narrow.”
Others also testified that Fennell was aware of the affair and verbally implicated himself following Stites’ slaying. Fennell’s co-worker told the court that he had Stites fill out a life insurance policy and claimed she’d previously heard him threaten his fiancé.
"If I ever catch you messing around on me, I will kill you," witness Ruby Volek recalled Fennell once telling his former lover.
One witness also testified that Fennell allegedly used a racial slur to describe Reed shortly before she was killed.
Prosecutors maintained there was no direct proof of a secret affair between Reed and Stites. Reed, they insist, choked and raped Stites after she left Fennell’s and drove to work. Lisa Tanner, an assistant Texas attorney general, also accused the defense of having multiple narratives regarding what transpired on the night of Stites’ death.
"Our evidence is not new and not anything we haven't been saying for 25 years," Tanner said.
Meanwhile, Reed’s attorney, Andrew MacRae, called the state’s case “flimsy.”
"With respect to false evidence, there's a mountain of it," Reed’s defense attorney said this week, according to CBS News.
Some of Reed’s family attended Monday’s hearing. MacRae wasn’t immediately available when contacted by Oxygen.com on Tuesday.
"[The][ only thing that can stand in our way is corruption because if the truth be told, my brother is coming home," Roderick Reed told KVUE.
Ahead of the hearing, a throng of his supporters had also gathered in Bastrop and held a vigil, proclaiming his innocence, CBS Austin reported. On Saturday, Reed, who spoke with a group of them on the phone, said he was feeling “very optimistic.”
"Being able to reach out and touch base with my family and friends has been a blessing," he said.
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