In Republican-led Texas, the state that executes the most death row inmates, a GOP lawmaker is urging the governor to delay the execution of Rodney Reed.
“A death sentence is final, and given the doubt surrounding his innocence at this time, I believe our state cannot execute Mr. Reed in good conscience without fully reviewing all evidence,” Texas Rep. Michael T. McCaul wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
McCaul joins a growing chorus of voices across the country who say new evidence might prove Reed did not rape and strangle 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop in 1996.
Reed was sentenced to death more than 20 years ago. He’s scheduled to be executed November 20.
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.
2.9 million people ask to stop the execution
The case has united lawmakers, religious leaders, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna, and more than 2.9 million people who have signed a petition on freerodneyreed.com asking Abbott to halt the execution.
New witness affidavits, which come from neighbors, colleagues, and associates of Stites and Fennell, paint their relationship as abusive and difficult. There is also more testimony supporting the assertion that Stites was in an affair with Reed.
One witness said that at Stites’ funeral, Fennell said something like, “You got what you deserved,” while looking his fiancée’s body.
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.
A former inmate says the victim’s fiancé confessed
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 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 the victim’s fiancé confessed to the murder that sent Reed to prison.
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 late last 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.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the affidavit in which another inmate said Jimmy Fennell confessed was filed in October.