AUSTIN, Texas — In our fifth episode of the Texas Crime Files: Rodney Reed podcast series we hear from several voices, including one of Reed’s attorney’s who will provide details about a recent ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It was a major development that occurred just five days before Reed’s execution, which had been scheduled to take place on Nov. 20.
When the Appeals Court blocked Reed’s execution, they agreed to allow a lower court to consider his claim that he is innocent and that the state withheld important testimony that may have helped to clear his name. We'll learn more about that in a moment. But, first, reaction from both sides after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced its decision Friday.
Without question supporters of Rodney Reed were pleased with the Criminal Appeals court decision. Reed’s brother Rodrick, who has served as a family spokesperson, talked about their family's reaction.
Roderick Reed: “We’re very, very happy. We give all honor and glory to God, because without him this wouldn’t be possible. God works through people to enable us to get this day. We’re just overwhelmed with joy, but we want to remind everybody that the fight continues. Rodney’s still on death row. That was the first leg of it. We got a long stretch, and that’s to get him in this new trial and get him home.”
When news about the stay of execution came down on Nov. 15, Kim Kardashian West was visiting Rodney Reed in prison. Also there, was one of Reed’s attorneys, Quinncy McNeal. I asked him about Reed’s reaction at the moment he learned that his execution had been put on hold.
Quinncy McNeal: “Well, it was emotional. He was obviously relieved. At that point, he had five days until his death, and Kim heard, although I did not hear, praise Jesus or, thank you Jesus, something to that effect. I’m satisfied and pleased that the court will allow these claims to go forward and allow him to be vindicated.”
But not everyone agreed with the court's ruling. Debra Oliver, the sister of Stacey Stites, issued a statement on Nov. 20.
"Today was supposed to be the day that this nightmare ended. Thanks to celebrities and politicians that didn't take the time to learn about the facts, today changed. Today we start fighting back, to get justice for ALL of Rodney Reed's victims, " said Oliver.
Reed denies killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996, and his defense attorneys say they have evidence that will exonerate him and implicate Stites' fiancé at the time, Jimmy Fennell.
Reed’s attorneys are working to get him a new trial based on sworn affidavits from witnesses who have come forward since his original trial. And they want DNA testing of the belt that was used to strangle Stacey Stites.
I asked McNeal about the new witnesses who have recently come forward.
McNeal: “Well, there are a few things, let's just point out a couple of things. You might’ve seen that some members of law enforcement have come forward. And in terms of members of law enforcement, we have a guy named Jim Clampit and we have a guy named Wayne Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher came forward, he is a member of law enforcement. He was on the sheriff’s office with one of the investigating agencies and he says he overheard in a social setting with Mr. Fennell, that Mr. Fennell said to him that he believed Stacey was having sex with a black man, and Mr. Fennell says that about three or four days before Stacey died. And so it’s this information, for example, that we believe should’ve been shared with the defense and was not. But we believe that if the state had shared it with the defense and if the defense knew about that and was able to produce this witness, that the jury would’ve come to a different conclusion. We think the same of Mr. Clampit, whose affidavit you might have also seen. Now he was a member of the League County Sheriff’s Office, which assisted in the investigation into the murder of Stacey Stites. And Mr. Clampit said that at the funeral of Stacey Stites he was standing alongside Jimmy Fennell. They were looking down at Stacey Stites's body and Jimmy Fennell says something along the lines of ‘you got what you deserved.’ Again, this is information that we feel the defense would have been able to show motivation and would have been able to show that Mr. Fennell was involved in some way in this, and we believe the jury would’ve come to a different conclusion.”
Reed’s attorneys also want the belt that was used to choke Stites tested for DNA.
But Lisa Tanner, the prosecutor who helped get Reed convicted, says that the belt was contaminated when it was mixed in with other exhibits from the trial and that DNA results wouldn’t be conclusive.
Tanner: “The problem is, is that the belt was subjected to the forensic testing that was available at the time, that was all consistent with the standards at the time. And subsequent to everything having been done, the belt was released. The belt was then introduced to trial, and since all testing had been completed, people handled it without gloves and that was, again, consistent with the standards of the day. Even Rodney Reed’s own experts have conceded that that was the standard back then and so nobody was doing anything untowered, that’s just the way it was handled back then. After trial, the court reporter then put it in a box with all the other evidence, not separate, not in bags, not maintained in any forensically acceptable manner for forensic testing. And so, as a result of that, the belt is not in a condition where it could yield anything probative.”
Reed’s attorney, Quinncy McNeal, disagrees.
McNeal: “They are arriving at the conclusion without being willing to test it. How do they know there’s cross-contamination? How do they know that there is, by cross-contamination? I imagine what they’re saying is that there’s fear that there would be DNA and fingerprints on top of fingerprints or DNA on top of DNA. Mixtures to the point where you could not determine the contributors. I would assume that’s what that means. Why don’t we test it and see if there is cross-contamination? What they’re basically saying, it seems to me, is there could be no probative value to this because of cross-contamination, but Mr. Reed's defense has been willing for some time now to pay for this. I don’t know what the state has to lose in testing this. Except that maybe they don’t know how to respond to a conclusion that Mr. Reed’s DNA is not on it. I’m just not sure, I’m speculating here. I don’t know what the issue is there, it seems to me like if you have fear that there is cross-contamination, but you don’t know there’s been cross-contamination, and this is the murder weapon, which they believe to be true, it seems like you would run the testing to determine if in fact there is cross-contamination. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but we’re certainly going to run it because it confounds all members of justice that you would be able to identify the murder weapon and not test the murder weapon.”
I asked McNeal about next steps now that the execution has been halted.
McNeal: “We will have a hearing, ultimately, at some point. The exact time, the date is unknown just yet, although, the picture will start to become clearer. We will have to bring these experts to, these experts and these witnesses to the court, and they will have an opportunity to share their stories and share the information that they provided to us in the application for the writ of habeas corpus. And truthfully, they will have to withstand cross-examination from the state and the truth will be known, we believe. That is going to happen at some point in the future. We imagine that a subsequent order will come down from the court telling us – giving us a better idea of timeframe, or the Bastrop County Court will give us some idea of timeframe, but now is really the time to dig in and to begin working. And to have the opportunity to prove Mr. Reed’s innocence is a good thing.”
One more note about Stites fiancé Jimmy Fennell. He has his defenders too, among them Stacey Stites’ immediate family, the prosecutors and his attorney Bob Phillips.
Phillips: “If I, for a moment, thought Jimmy Fennell, or anyone else, was guilty of that offense, I’d be joining all these press conferences, standing up at the Capitol, begging for mercy, picketing, the whole bit. I mean, I never want it on my record that I facilitated, either passively or actively, in the wrongful conviction and execution of an innocent man. But there’s never been a guiltier man in the history of Texas than Rodney Reed.”
So, Rodney Reed, his family and his supporters have been granted their wish that the execution be stopped. Now the case will go back to a state judge in Bastrop County where he was convicted. We will continue our ongoing series of reports about Rodney Reed as his case enters a new stage when those who defend him and those who want his original conviction to stand, meet again in a district court hearing.
You can hear the entire podcast series on the KVUE YouTube page – or download the series where you get your podcasts.
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