Innocence Project staff attorney Bryce Benjet appeared before a Texas court today seeking DNA testing of crime scene evidence that could prove that Rodney Reed is innocent of the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. Reed, who is scheduled to be executed on January 14, 2015, has always maintained that he is innocent of the crime.
Stites was 19 years old and weeks away from wedding Jimmy Fennell, a former Georgetown police sergeant who is now in prison for a sexual assault of a woman while on the job. Fennell has become an alternative suspect in the case.
The victim’s body was found in the early morning hours after she was scheduled to start her shift at a local grocery store. Her car was found ten miles away. Although her mother testified that Fennell was set to take her to work that morning, he later claimed that the plan changed and that he was still asleep when she left. Officials never questioned Fennell about the timeline leading up to her disappearance and he got rid of the abandoned car shortly after.
Police tested semen found inside the victim and matched it to Rodney, who then revealed that he had a secret relationship with the victim and that he had been previously scared to admit to the affair since he was black and she was a white woman engaged to a police officer in a small Texas community. Several witnesses have confirmed knowledge of the affair.
Prosecutors have so far refused to allow the Innocence Project to conduct testing of a belt that was used to strangle Stites and her clothing. Significantly, DNA testing of two empty beer cans that were recovered near Stites’ body revealed a potential match to a good friend, neighbor and colleague of Fennell’s. The Innocence Project is hopeful that the court will grant testing which could decide once and for all who is responsible for Stites’ murder.
KEYE TV interviewed a cousin of Stites, Heather Stobbs, who is urging the state to grant Reed a new trial. Stobbs told KEYE TV, “If there’s this many questions about a case then you don’t kill someone over it. You find out what the truth is, and even if you have to offend people that are in positions of power than you offend them.”