[Criminal Justice\ Rodney Reed]
Bryce Benjet, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project and Reed’s lead counsel: “It should be clear to anyone who looks at the evidence in this case that Mr. Reed did not commit the sexual assault or murder of Stacey Stites. To execute Mr. Reed would be a grave miscarriage of justice that will create irreparable damage to public confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the Texas criminal justice system.”
Will Texas unjustly kill Rodney Reed for a murder most likely done by the victim’s boyfriend–former Officer Jimmy Fennell, who alleged said he had to kill his “nigger loving fiancée,” who was in a consentual relationship with Reed?
The Innocence Project announced last week that the legal team for Rodney Reed, who is set to be executed on November 20, 2019, for a crime he did not commit, filed an application for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The application requests the Board recommend that Governor Abbott grant a commutation of Reed’s death sentence in light of the mounting new evidence of his innocence, including a new sworn affidavit by fellow prison mate and Aryan Brotherhood member, Arthur Snow, stating that Jimmy Fennell, the fiancé of victim Stacey Stites, confessed to her murder.
The application, filed by Reed’s attorneys with the Innocence Project, includes the affidavit along with enormous amounts of evidence that has disproven every aspect of the state’s case against Reed.
“Mr. Reed’s execution is less than one month away, meaning Texas is frighteningly close to executing an innocent man. Between the medical and scientific evidence, and multiple new, credible witnesses, the original case trial has been completely deconstructed and disproven,” said Bryce Benjet, a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project and Reed’s lead counsel. “It should be clear to anyone who looks at the evidence in this case that Mr. Reed did not commit the sexual assault or murder of Stacey Stites. To execute Mr. Reed would be a grave miscarriage of justice that will create irreparable damage to public confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the Texas criminal justice system.”
The application for clemency comes on the heels of Snow’s statement. Snow, who became friendly with Fennell while incarcerated together at the Stevenson Unit in Cuero, Texas, just recently came forward and stated that Fennell confided in him: “Jimmy said his fiancé had been sleeping around with a Black man behind his back. By the way, Jimmy spoke about this experience, I could tell that it deeply angered him. Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée.’”
In addition to this witness, an amicus brief was filed this past Monday in the United States Supreme Court by a group of Texas law enforcement officers in support of Reed’s innocence. In the past few weeks, a substantial amount of new information demonstrating Reed’s innocence has come to light. Three new witnesses, who knew Fennell at the time of Stites’ murder, have come forward with information corroborating the existing evidence of Reed’s innocence and establishing a violation of due process. In order to further investigate this newly discovered evidence, the withdrawal of the impending execution date is required under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
‘I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée.’
Recently, an affidavit (found at the end of the letter) providing sworn testimony from former Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Charles Wayne Fletcher, a colleague and friend of Fennell at the time of Stites’ murder, establishes motives of both racial animus and revenge for Fennell against Stites. Fennell, who was an early suspect in the Stites’ rape and murder, later pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sex charges after he was indicted for abducting and raping a different woman who he encountered while on-duty as a Georgetown police officer.
Fletcher also describes the deteriorating relationship between Fennell and Stites in March 1996 and recalls that Fennell made a disturbing and bigoted statement that Stites was having an affair: “… I remember clearly that Jimmy said that he believed Stacey was ‘f***ing a n*****’.” It also notes Fennell’s “odd, emotionless behavior” at Stites’ funeral and burial services. “I was so disturbed by his behavior that it caused me to question whether he was involved in Stacey’s death,” Fletcher’s affidavit states. “I also chose to have no further interaction or communication with him.”
Fletcher’s statement follows two other affidavits implicating Fennell in the murder: one from an insurance salesperson who stated that Fennell threatened to kill Stites while applying for life insurance, and the other from Jim Clampit, a deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the murder, to whom Fennell made an alarming and inculpatory statement at Stites’ funeral regarding Stites’ body. This new evidence could not have been discovered or presented in any of Reed’s prior pleadings and supports his actual innocence. None of the aforementioned statements have been heard in court before.
Previously, Stites’ cousin has affirmed that Reed and Stites were romantically involved, while Fennell’s best friend at the time, Bastrop Sheriff’s officer, Curtis Davis, has revealed that Fennell gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder.
Forensic experts who implicated Reed at trial have recanted their opinions, and leading forensic pathologists have since concluded that the state’s theory of Reed’s guilt is medically and scientifically impossible. Despite overwhelming evidence of Reed’s innocence, Texas courts have consistently refused to consider the forensic evidence proving Reed did not commit the crime and denied access to DNA testing that can confirm Fennell’s guilt.
Reed’s call for justice, commutation and exoneration have recently been taken up by high-profile individuals, including Dr. Phil McGraw, Kim Kardashian West and Mark Cuban. This month, Dr. Phil featured Reed’s case on his television show. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist who has examined Stites’ autopsy report, insisted, “without hesitation, that this is one of the clearest, unequivocal cases of gross misjudgment – of a travesty of justice – that I’ve ever seen.”
Reed is represented by Innocent Project Senior Staff Attorney Bryce Benjet and Andrew MacRae of Levatino Pace PLLC. The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
For more information logon to: www.innocenceproject.org