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Man Rodney Reed's defense team contends is the real killer takes stand on day four of appeals hearing

Reed, a death row inmate, was convicted in 1998 for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County.

BASTROP, Texas — Jimmy Fennell arrived just before 8:20 a.m. at the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office. Beside him, an armed attorney general law investigator escorted him inside the courthouse annex where the Rodney Reed evidentiary hearing has been taking place since Monday.

Before Fennell's hours-long testimony, the court heard from Brenda Dickinson, who worked with Stacey Stites at H-E-B in the mid-1990s and right before Stites' death.

Dickinson testified the two were good friends, and that Stites told her she became scared of Fennell and that she wasn't sure about going through with marrying Fennell anymore because of his control issues and jealousy.

Dickinson also said Stites didn't like Fennell to come up to the store because he would cause scenes.

When Stites died, Dickinson said she was devastated. She also said law enforcement never interviewed her as part of their investigation into Stites' murder. 

It wasn't until last year that Titus Levy, an investigator with the Innocence Project, reached out to her to get her statement about what she knew about Stites and Fennell. She said she still doesn't understand why her statement is important. 

Then, it was Fennell's turn on the witness stand.

Extra deputies were brought in to stand between Fennell and Reed at the defense table. Two defense attorneys sat between them as well. 

Lead defense attorney, Andrew Macrae, asked Fennell if he understood what waiving his right to plead the fifth meant. Fennell said yes. Macrae asked if he understood what waiving his right to have his attorney present meant. Fennell said yes.

Judge J.D. Langley also reiterated the questions. Fennell answered the same. 

Both wanted Fennell to understand anything he said in court could be used against him, including prosecuting him for the death of Stites. 

In 2017, Fennell pled the fifth and refused to answer any questions about the death of Stites.

Macrae started with several rapid-fire questions asking Fennell if he ever held a gun against a Mexican-American's head? Fennell said it depends on the instance, maybe to protect someone.

Macrae asked if he remembered sexually assaulting a woman? The state objected. 

Macrae asked what crime was Fennell convicted of in 2007?  Fennell answered: kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a person in custody.

Macrae asked Fennell, did you violate your oath as a Georgetown police officer? Fennell said yes.

Moving to the topic of his fiancee, Stites, Fennell said he is on her side and that he doesn't care how hard it has been for Reed the past few years because of what he has done.

He denied Stites was having an affair with Reed because he was with Stites all the time.

In fact, he denied all allegations from the 16 defense witnesses who testified that Fennell made racist comments about Reed.

He also denied all allegations that he was abusive toward Stites.

Fennell called all the witnesses liars, including the two forensic pathologists who testified Stites died before the 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. window. The state contends Stites died in this window and was with Reed. 

But Fennell got emotional when prosecutor Travis Bragg asked him about the day Stites disappeared. 

When Fennell said he saw the truck he shared with Stites, he knew something had happened to her. His worst fears were confirmed when Stites' body was found. Reed stared straight the entire time.

Fennell started crying when Bragg asked him why he couldn't marry Sites.

Fennell looked down, paused, and said, "because Rodney Reed murdered Stacey Stites."

Reed sat emotionless, facing forwarding but there were gasps from the gallery. His brother, Rodrick got up and walked out.

Earlier this week, Stites' sister, Debra Oliver, said she believes Reed killed Stites.

Reed's brother said that's understandable.

"I'm not mad at them, nor is any member of my family mad at them. We sympathize for them and we just hope that they open their eyes to the truth, because if they really want the truth, they need to have an open mind and look at the evidence," Rodrick Reed said.

Rodney Reed is no longer facing execution, but he is now trying to get a new trial to clear his name. The evidentiary hearing could lead to that new trial.

In 1998, Rodney Reed was convicted of the 1996 abduction, rape and murder of Stites. For more than 20 years, he has maintained his innocence.

On Wednesday, Rodney Reed's defense team continued laying down the groundwork for their client not killing Stites. The defense called several witnesses to try to prove the relationship between Stites and her fiancé, Fennell, was abusive.

Two of the witnesses were former co-workers of Stites. One testified that she saw hand marks on Stites' wrists and that she believes Stites was in an abusive relationship. Another coworker testified that Stites wasn't excited about getting married to Fennell.

For a recap of Wednesday's proceedings, click here.

The defense rested Thursday.

The state starts calling witnesses on Friday.

Day four updates:

5:15 p.m. – Court is adjourned for the day. The State will start tomorrow.

4:23 p.m. – The defense said to Fennell he had testified how bad his memory is, but he's been "very clear on what other people’s memories should have been."

4:03 p.m. – Fennell said he doesn’t remember a lot during the time period of April 22 and April 23 because of his subsequent sex and tobacco addiction he developed after Stites’ death. He said his his memory isn’t “very good” but he is filling in details through transcripts.

3:53 p.m. – Defense attorney Andrew Macrae asked Fennell "did anyone tell you to cry at any point during your testimony?" Fennell responded, "no."

3:11 p.m. – Fennell said for 25 years, Rodney eed was made out to be the victim and Stites a demon. When asked how that made him feel, he said with a quivering voiced that it ripped his guts out.

He said he has experienced non-stop harassment because of Rodney Reed, and that his family has faced harassment as well. He said this is why he does not have social media accounts. Fennell added that he does not regret meeting Stites or having a relationship with her, as short as it was.

3 p.m. – The State is still questioning Fennell. He said he pled guilty in 2007 to kidnapping and improper sexual activity of a person in custody when he was a Georgetown police officer, and knew it was wrong. He served 10 years in prison, and said that's where he got the help he needed.

Fennell said he got a bachelor's degree in ministry in prison. He denied knowing Arthur Snow and trying to become a part of the Aryan Brotherhood because it's weak. He said he had no use for gangs, did not need protection and wasn't scared of being a police officer in prison.

2:50 p.m. – Fennell said a piece of him was ripped out – his heart. He said he felt like he was lost and took Xanax for weeks. He said he could not remember her funeral but that she deserved to be happy. Although he said he did not kill her, he felt responsible for her death because he didn't take her to work that morning. He claimed Stites did not know Rodney Reed.

2:45 p.m. – Fennell said he was in bed when he got the call that Stites' body was found. He said he had to ask for her mother's keys to go to the crime scene. Inside the truck he shared with Stites, he said he saw her shoes and carbon copies of his checks – which is why he said he closed his bank account – with saliva all over.

When he was asked what he thought when he saw the truck, Fennell started crying. He said he was a cop so he knew something had happened to her. He said his worst fears were confirmed when her body was found. 

Rodney eed stared straight ahead through this entire conversation.

2:24 p.m. – The defense asks Fennell why he couldn't marry Stites. Fennell looks down, pauses, and said, "Because Rodney Reed murdered her." His answer garners gasps from the gallery. Roderick Reed, Rodney's brother, stands up and leaves the room.

2:09 p.m. – Fennell said he met Stites at a bar in Bastrop in 1995 and they started seriously dating soon after. He said they hit it off right away and he knew she was "the one." He called her beautiful and said there was a friendship there too. He said they got engaged around October or November when he got a job with the Giddings Police Department. 

Fennell said he fought more with Stites' mother, Carol, than he did with Stites. He claims no one ever complained about noise from their apartment, and that he spent time with Carol when they would all eat dinner together. He called it a "happy little family of three."

Fennell said they were homebodies because they were saving money for their wedding. He denied the allegation that Stites was having an affair. Although there was stress in their relationship, he said, “We told each other everything. There was no doubt. We loved each other.” 

He said the three of them were planning to go pick out flowers for their wedding on April 23 and that he and Stites were looking forward to having children and spending the rest of their lives together.

1:45 p.m. – Court resumes with Judge J.D. Langley reviewing emails between Fennell and a State attorney.

12:00 p.m. – Hearing breaks for one-hour lunch.

11:37 a.m. – The lead defense attorney, Andrew Macrae, reiterates to Fennell that he does not have an alibi, that he failed two polygraph tests, cleaned out his bank account and lied to a police officer, referring to a media interview where the officer said Fennell didn't show up for work because he had a few beers the night before.

Macrae then asks Fennell if he is sure he does not want an attorney, to which he said yes.

Moving on, Fennel denied having public arguments with Stites, calling previous testimony lies. He also denied approaching the Aryan Brotherhood in prison.

11:13 a.m. – After a quick break, the questioning of Fennell continues with Rodney Reed sitting close by with two lawyers and three deputies between them.

Fennell denies a Bastrop police report stating he closed his checking account on the morning Stites disappeared. However, he agreed that he immediately sold the truck Stites was diving on the morning she was killed because he wanted nothing to do with it. He denied selling it because of the possibility that he killed her.

Fennell also agreed that, at one time, he was the prime suspect in her murder and that he failed two polygraph tests, but he still denies that he killed her. The State objects because polygraph tests are not admissible in court.

He also denied confronting Rodney Reed about an affair with Stites and denied knowing him. He admitted that he did not know what time Stites left their apartment on the night of April 22 or the morning of April 23.

10:10 a.m. – Fennell denies Stites was having an affair with Rodney Reed and denies all allegations from the defense's witnesses, calling them "all liars." When asked about two forensic pathologists' testimonies stating Stites died before 3 a.m., rather than between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., Fennell said they were lying as well.

In the original trial, Fennell testified that he was with Stites between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. He denied being with Stites when she died.

9:50 a.m.  Fennell has waived his Fifth Amendment right, unlike in a 2017 affidavit where he refused to answer questions about Stites' death. Fennell said he is on Stites' side and understands he can be prosecuted for her murder.

The judge has re-asked Fennell if he understands he has given up his rights because he does not have an attorney representing him. Fennell said he understands.

9:30 a.m. – Brenda Dickinson, a former H-E-B co-worker of Stites, testifies that the two were good friends and that Stites had become scared of her fiancé, Fennell, after he grew controlling and jealous. Dickinson also said Stites wasn't sure she should marry Fennell because of his controlling and jealousy issues.

Fennell will take the stand next. Extra deputies were brought into the courtroom and the judge moved Rodney Reed a seat away from Fennell.

Background:

Earlier this month, Reed attended a pre-evidentiary hearing in Bastrop County. Reed’s defense attorneys said they have new forensic evidence to present during the appeal hearing that will prove his innocence.

The defense also said it has expert testimony showing that Stites died earlier than originally thought and that sperm can remain intact longer.

The appeal hearing is expected to last for two weeks.

In 2019, Reed received a stay of execution, just days before his scheduled execution date. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the stay based on possibly concealed information, false testimony and the chance that he is innocent.

His case gained national attention in 2019 after celebrities, including Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, spoke out in an effort to stop his execution.

Stites was killed in 1996, just days before her wedding. Her body was found along a highway in Bastrop County, and authorities arrested Reed after his DNA matched the DNA found inside her body.

Reed maintains he is innocent, stating he and Stites were having a consensual affair.  

KVUE launched a podcast in 2019, taking a look at Reed's case. Listen here.

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