Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, who says he’s innocent, asked for a new trial. A court said no
Jun 28, 2023, 3:11 PM
(Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)
HOUSTON (AP) — An appeals court on Wednesday denied a new trial request from longtime Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, whose supporters say there is evidence to back his claims of innocence.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted a 2021 recommendation from a lower court judge, who had ruled against several claims made by Reed, including that he’s not guilty.
Despite the ruling, Reed’s execution is not expected anytime soon. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that he should have a chance to argue for testing of crime-scene evidence that he says will exonerate him. The following month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered that additional legal briefs be filed on whether Reed should be granted additional DNA testing.
Reed was condemned for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say he raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Austin.
“In sum, Reed has failed to make an affirmative, persuasive showing that, likelier than not, he is innocent of Stacey Stites’s murder,” the Texas appeals court wrote in its 129-page ruling Wednesday.
Jane Pucher, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, criticized the appeals court’s ruling.
“Mr. Reed’s conviction and death sentence violates the most central tenets of our Constitution and cannot stand,” Pucher said in a written statement. “We will continue to fight for Mr. Reed’s freedom and bring him home to his family.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which argued the case on behalf of the state during the appeals process, didn’t return an email seeking comment Wednesday.
Reed, 55, has long maintained that Stites’ fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black. Fennell, who served time for sexual assault and was released from prison in 2018, has denied killing Stites. Reed’s attorneys have also accused prosecutors of suppressing evidence.
Prosecutors say his claims of an affair with Stites were not proved at trial, Fennell was cleared as a suspect and Reed had a history of committing other sexual assaults.
Reed was first scheduled to be executed in November 2019. The Texas Court of Criminal appeals put the execution on hold and state District Judge J.D. Langley was appointed to review the case.
In his October 2021 ruling, Langley denied Reed’s claim that prosecutors had suppressed evidence. He was also critical of witnesses who had testified in a July 2021 hearing in support of Reed’s claims that he was in a relationship with Stites and had not sexually assaulted her before she was killed.
In its Wednesday ruling, the appeals court described those witnesses as “frankly unimpressive.”
Several forensic experts testified in July 2021 that Stites died hours earlier than the timeline presented by prosecutors. Defense experts had suggested Stites could have died during the times that Fennell testified he was with her.
But the appeals court said that “Reed’s scientific and forensic evidence does not affirmatively show that Reed is innocent.”
Reed’s efforts to stop his execution in 2019 received support from such celebrities as Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey. Lawmakers from both parties also asked that officials take another look at the case.
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