BASTROP, Texas — The waiting continues for the families of Rodney Reed and Stacey Stites.
After nine days and nearly 50 witnesses taking the stand, the evidentiary hearing is not over yet. Attorneys still need to make closing arguments.
Before that can happen, Judge J.D. Langley said he will likely ask the Court of Criminal Appeals for an extension as the written findings from his court are due Aug. 17. He will set a date for closing arguments afterward.
Reed, a death row inmate, hopes this hearing eventually leads to a new trial that will overturn his 1998 conviction of the abduction, rape and murder of Stites.
Reed's lawyers contend that her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, is the real killer. The Stites family believes Reed killed her.
Before both sides rested on Thursday, the state called its final witnesses.
Former Lee County District Attorney, Ted Weems, testified that Bill Sappington, a man who lived in an apartment underneath Fennell and Stites, approached him at a church and told him that he heard the couple arguing in their apartment. He said the two fought a lot. Weems said he directed Sappington to give that information to Bastrop County authorities and the Texas Rangers since the murder of Stites happened in Bastrop County. Their apartments were located in Lee County.
Weems also denied he responded to Sappington by telling him to "hush his mouth" and that they already had a suspect, directly contradicting Brent Sappington's testimony from last week. Brent Sappington is Bill Sappington's son.
Ron Haas, a retired H-E-B manager, testified that Stites wrote on an employee form, "going to get married." Stites worked at H-E-B at the time of her death.
Agustin Moreno, another former H-E-B employee, testified that he took the checker training course with Stites. He said she appeared excited about getting married. But in cross-examination, he told lead defense attorney Andrew MacRae that he only spoke to Stites on and off for four days.
Sandy Sepulveda was the next state witness who said she did Stacey's nails in high school. They attended Smithville High School together. Sepulveda said Stites had "horrible" nails and that she used press-on fake nails on her. She also testified that Stites did not appear to have any concerns or fears about her wedding.
Diantha Lee started a special education program at Smithville High School at the same time Stites was a student. Lee said she stopped into H-E-B early one morning in April of 1996 for fresh produce and ran into Stites. She said she was excited about her upcoming wedding.
Sarah Palmer Smith testified that she was good friends with Stites in high school, but lost touch when she moved out of state in March of 1995. She moved back to Texas in March of 1996.
Smith said her mother ran into Stacey and said she talked about getting married. Smith said she wanted to go see Stites but it never happened.
The state called a bill of exception witnesses after lunch. While technically part of the record for the appellate process, these witnesses are not on the record for the evidentiary hearing yet. They could be added later if the judge chooses.
All the witnesses testified in the punishment phase of Reed's trial but not in the guilt/innocence phase, which the defense takes issue with.
Vivian Harbottle Chapman testified that she was raped by a man near railroad tracks during a visit from Corpus Christi to Bastrop. She said when she told him she didn't want to die, he just laughed. Prosecutor Lisa Tanner said Reed's DNA could not be eliminated.
Kellea Miller is a former Bastrop police officer who said she knew Reed through arrests and through the community. She described responding to an attempted rape call. After getting the suspect's description, she noted the clothing was a match to what she saw Reed was wearing 20 minutes earlier at a different location.
The final witness was the attempted rape call Miller responded to. Linda Schlueter said Reed tried to rape and kill her before stealing her car. The testimony was graphic and brought her to tears. Schlueter identified Reed out of a photo lineup.
The judge had to order a break.
Family members on both sides seem to be optimistic.
"We feel this time we have a lot more support around the world. We feel that our evidence and stuff have been admitted into this case. So we feel better than we ever have in the last 24 years about any hearing that we've been discussing," said Rodrick Reed, Rodney Reed's brother.
"I do feel like this is finally going to start coming to an end. I do feel like Rodney has been given a fair trial and a chance to show all of the evidence that they wanted to show," said Debra Oliver, Stites' sister.
Stites' daughter showed up for the first time during the hearing.
"I thought it's a mess. I think this should have been already done and over with a long time ago. And we shouldn't have to keep reliving it because we are the victims. Stites was the victim, not the other way around, and that's how it should be," said Nugent.
Defense attorneys weighed in.
"But we believe firmly in Rodney's innocence. He and his family have been fighting this case for the better part of my lifetime. And we're honored to have been a part of this for the past two weeks and for the past many years," Jane Pucher said.
"No trial ever goes as you expect, but all of those witnesses testified as we expected them to testify. And as you remember, they had very vivid recollections of some pretty horrible acts. And I think it was pretty powerful stuff. What's different is we have what I lost count 15, 20 witnesses who have come forward, people with no ax to grind, they don't know Jimmy Finnell, they don't know Rodney Reed. They're friends of Stacey States. And they came forward to tell us and the court what they knew. That's what's different," said Andrew MaCrae.
On Wednesday, the state called 10 witnesses. Fennell's sister, mother and cousin, who are all defending him, testified that he and Stites loved each other and couldn't wait to get married.
Other witnesses called included DPS DNA section supervisor Allison Heard and Kelly Enloe and Jay Hart from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Read a full recap of Wednesday's proceedings here.
Judge J.D. Langley told attorneys Tuesday that the hearing might have to extend into the next week if it doesn't go longer each day.
Day 9 Live Updates:
3:30 p.m. – After a break, the defense will not call rebuttal witnesses. Defense and state rest. The judge said he will ask for an extension from the Court of Criminal Appeals on when written findings from this hearing are due. Closing statements will be another time. The date is undetermined.
2:40 p.m. – The next bill of exception witness is Linda Schlueter. She was 19 years old when she visited Bastrop. She described an encounter with an African American man at a payphone who after he asked for a ride, beat her, asked for a sexual act, threatened to kill her and stole her car.
Schlueter says she picked out the suspect in a photo line after the crime and picked out the suspect as Reed in the courtroom.
Defense lawyer George Kendall says this is a good example of Laches defense, meaning an unreasonable amount of time since the incident occurred; the State waited years and years to bring forward these witnesses. Kendall also brought up the issue of reliability. State rests.
2:13 p.m. – These bill of exception witnesses are on the record as far as the appellate process is concerned but the judge still needs to consider if their testimonies will be part of this evidentiary hearing.
2:06 p.m. – Next bill of exception State witness is Kellea Miller, a former Bastrop police officer. Miller knew Reed well because she had arrested him before and knew him in the community. In November 1996, she responded to a rape call.
Kellea Miller says the victim described the attacker as a Black man, over six feet tall, wearing blue jeans, sneakers and a white windbreaker with different colors. This is significant because she saw Reed was wearing the same clothes at a different location 20 minutes earlier.
Miller says that victim was Linda Schlueter. Schlueter is the same victim whose DNA sample matched DNA on Stites' body and led to Reed's arrest.
1:45 p.m. – The State is calling witnesses under bill of exceptions, which means they are not on the record. The State said these are witnesses who testified in the punishment phase of Reed's trial and not guilt or innocence phase.
The first witness is Vivian Harbottle Chapman. She says she was visiting Bastrop with her kids in 1996, attended Ray's Place (bar), and was walking near railroad tracks when a man grabbed her arm, pulled her under the railroad tracks and raped her. She says that as she screamed, he put his hands over her mouth.
Chapman says the rapist was very angry and looked like he wanted to kill her. When she asked him not to kill her, he laughed. She says she told him she has three daughters. When asked why she told him that, Chapman said she didn't want to die. Chapman cried on the stand.
Chapman says she would have been prepared to testify in the guilt or innocence phase of Reed's trial.
11:58 a.m. – Stites's sister, Debra Oliver, says her sister was not having a secret affair with Reed. Stites' daughter responds to a comment about her race from someone in the crowd.
11:51 a.m. – Stites' daughter, Demi Nugent, describes the hearing as a "mess" and says it should have happened a long time ago.
11:08 a.m. – The next State witness is Sarah Palmer Smith, a high school friend of Stites, with Travis Bragg questioning.
Smith says Stites was loving and extremely outgoing, had a spirit that could light up a room, and was a joy to be around.
She says she moved out of state in 1995 and came back to Texas in 1996. She lost contact with Stites, but says her mother ran into her and they talked about Stites getting married. She says she never saw Stites again.
The hearing takes a lunch break.
10:35 a.m. – Diantha Lee takes the stand. She was a special education teacher at Smithville High School when Stites attended, but Stites was not her student.
She says she ran into Stites at the Bastrop H-E-B in April of 1996. She says Stites told her she was getting married and she was excited about her upcoming life.
During cross-examination with MacRae, she says her conversation with Stites was 10 to 15 minutes.
Court takes a quick break.
10:10 a.m. – Sandy Sepulveda, Stites' friend at Smithville High School, is the next witness. Prosecutor Lisa Tanner asks about their connection. Sepulveda says she did Stites' nails because her nails were "horrible" and she had to modify the press-on nails to fit Stites' nails.
Sepulveda says she later saw Stites at H-E-B in the checkout line, where their conversation revolved around Stites' wedding, how she paid off the dress. Stites told her she was proud she was going to marry a police officer.
Tanner asks Sepulveda if Stites appeared to have any concerns or fears about her wedding. Sepulveda says absolutely not.
In cross-examination with MacRae: Was upset her name was posted on a closed Facebook page as part of the witness list and it caused her fear. She was not close to Stites and never met Fennell.
9:50 a.m. – Agustin Moreno is the third witness called to the stand. Moreno is a former H-E-B worker who attended checker training with Stites for four days.
Prosecutor Lisa Tanner asks Moreno if Stites appeared excited about getting married. He says yes.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Andrew MacRae points out that Moreno spoke to Stites off and on in a period of four days.
9:40 a.m. - Ted Weems, former Lee City District Attorney, is called to the stand as a state witness.
Weems testifies that Bill Sappington, a man who lived near Stites and Jimmy Fennell, approached him at church to say he had heard the two arguing. Weems says he told Sappington to go to Bastrop City authorities or the Texas Rangers, not Lee City.
Weems says he did not tell Sappington to stay hush or that there was already a suspect.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Quinncy McNeal asks Weems if he thinks someone other than law enforcement told him to hush his mouth. Weems answers yes. He says he had no reason to believe Sappington was not telling the truth.
The second witness is Ron Haas, former H-E-B manager. Prosecutor Travis Bagg questions Haas. Haas, who was in charge of hiring and firing, says Stites wrote "going to get married" on her employee form.
McNeal asks Haas if he knew the Bastrop police talked to 32 H-E-B employees and if he knew that H-E-B employed more than 150 people. Haas answers no to both questions.
Haas tells Bragg that he encouraged employees to talk to law enforcement.
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.
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