5 Things You Should Know About Texas Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed's Case
Reed was convicted of raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1998.
Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed has seemingly emerged from the shadows over the past few weeks. Most recently, celebrities including Questlove, Rihanna, Meek Mill and T.I. have publicly signed a petition calling for Reed’s release from prison. Reed, an African American man was previously convicted of raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites, a white woman in 1998. He is currently slated to be executed at the end of the month.
The Texas Observer reports that over the past two decades journalists and investigators with The Innocence Project have discredited the state’s case against Reed. In our latest roundup, we’re sharing the top five facts you should know about Reed’s case including details from Jordan Smith, a reporter for The Intercept who has been following the case for 18 years.
1. The case went unsolved for nearly a year until officers “tested the recovered DNA against 29-year-old Reed.” It matched and was the basis of the prosecution’s case.
According to The Intercept, Reed largely denied knowing Stites, but would later admit to having an affair with her. He also shared that the two had sex days before she was found dead. At the time of her death, Stites was engaged to a white police officer, Jimmy Fennell.
2. Reed’s DNA has linked him to numerous rapes. A few of the alleged victims have admitted he assaulted them. One case involved a 12-year-old girl; another case involved the mother of two of his children; and another involved an intellectually disabled woman, Caroline Rivas.
In court documents which have recently been made public, Reed was acquitted of one sexual assault allegation that involved a woman he allegedly knew from high school. In another case, he was accused of brutally sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl who was home alone. His DNA matched positively with that of the girl. Additionally, the court documents state that Caroline Rivas, a disabled woman who Reed was dating, admitted to her case worker that Reed would “hurt her” if she did not have sex with him. She also later admitted he had raped her. The Supreme Court cert. petitions reads: “The samples from Rivas’s rape kit provided the link to Stites’s murder.”
Jordan Smith addressed these allegations against Reed in her Intercept report, explaining that they were used against him “during the punishment phase as a means to argue that he deserved the death penalty.”
“…as harrowing and demanding of justice as these allegations are, they are not evidence that Reed is guilty of assaulting or killing Stites,” Smith wrote. “As it stands, every piece of the state’s case against Reed for that crime has fallen apart. To use the unadjudicated rape cases as proof that Reed committed Stites’s murder is, simply put, untenable.”
3. Three people have come forward with testimonies against Stites’ fiancé Jimmy Fennell. The New York Times reports Fennell was released from prison in 2018 after “he pleaded guilty in 2008 to kidnapping a woman he had encountered while on duty.” The woman alleged he also raped her.
Arthur J. Snow Jr., who served time in prison with Fennell, said last month in a sworn affidavit “that he heard Mr. Fennell confess to the murder of Ms. Stites.” Snow is a former member of the white-only prison gang Aryan Brotherhood, according to The New York Times. A former insurance sales representative alleges he heard Fennell say he would kill Stites if he ever caught her “messing around.” Charles W. Fletcher, a former friend of the couple, said Fennell shared that Stites was “cheating on him.” The fourth individual to come forward is Jim Clampit, a former sherrif’s deputy. Clampit has said that at Stites’ funeral, Fennell allegedly looked at her body and declared, “You got what you deserved.”
4. The timeline surrounding Stites’ murder was an issue from the beginning stages of the case. The Intercept‘s reporter Jordan Smith notes that “the state came up with a theory of her death that hinged on Reed’s DNA being the result of a stranger encounter.”
The state’s theory of the stranger encounter that allegedly led to Stites’ murder was because on the day of her murder she was slated to work at 3:30 a.m. at a grocery store. The state’s theory stated that “Stites left the apartment sometime around 3 a.m., driving toward Bastrop. Along the way, Reed, on foot, somehow stopped her and attacked her. He raped and strangled her and dumped her body before driving into town where he parked Fennell’s truck at the school before walking away.” “The timeline underpinning the state’s theory was provided by Fennell,” Smith wrote.
5. Medical experts who have reviewed the case previously declared that “changes to Stites’ body at the time it was found demonstrated that she’d been killed before midnight and then dumped in the woods the following morning.”
The Intercept‘s report stated that after death, “blood no longer circulates and gravity causes it to pool under the skin in the lowest parts of the body.” This leads to dark patches which look like bruising. When Stites’ body was found she was lying face up and the “front of her body showed clear signs of lividity — on her face, right arm and hand, and chest.” Lividity, according to The Intercept, takes at least four hours to set. Pathologists agreed this means “that Stites was killed and left in a position where she was slumped forward, one arm outstretched, for at least four hours before her body was dumped.”