LIVINGSTON, Texas - Weeks after his scheduled execution, death row inmate Rodney Reed is optimistic he could be freed.
Reed has been on death row 17 years and he has always claimed he's innocent. He and other death row inmates await their fate in Livingson, 200 miles east of Austin.
"Some guys actually lose their minds," Reed said. "It's a cage."
Reed has been at The Polunsky Unit nearly two decades. From behind the glass, he said just weeks ago he filled out the paperwork and prepared to die.
"We were talking about possible cremation and that type of stuff. Yeah, we made those arrangements."
Reed was scheduled to be executed March 5, but 10 days before, The Criminal Court of Appeals issued a stay and spared his life.
"I was happy but I wasn't jumping up and down or nothing like that," Reed said.
He explained it bought him more time but another execution date could be set.
"I don't entertain death in itself but it's likely to happen. It could happen," he said.
It's what he's been fighting since his 1998 trial when prosecutors said he raped and killed Stacey Stites. The 19-year-old didn't show up for her early morning shift at the grocery store on April 23, 1996. Investigators found her body on the side of the road.
"I had nothing to do with it. I had nothing to do with this case," Reed said.
Reed's DNA linked him to the crime a year after her death. He claims he and Stites had been sleeping together, but kept it secret since they were both in relationships.
"She told me that if he found out about us he would kill her," he said.
She died just weeks before her wedding to Giddings Police Officer Jimmy Fennell. Reed does not believe she planned to go through with it.
Reed also told KVUE about the night he met Stites in a Bastrop pool hall.
"I'm at the jukebox and she walks up and we were looking at selecting songs, I'm looking at a song, it was Michael Jackson," he recalled.
In his original interrogation one year after Stites' death, Reed denied knowing her. That, he said, is his biggest regret.
"That was what, what bothers me now when I look back on that," Reed said.
Two of Stites' coworkers have stepped forward and backed up the claim she and Reed were romantically involved. His attorneys have also requested additional DNA testing on her name tag and the belt used to strangle her. The court will review the request this month.
"I think that if the evidence would have been presented to the grand jury that there wouldn't have even been an indictment. There wouldn't have even been a trial," he said.
His attorneys with The Innocence Project in New York believe Fennell killed her after he found out about the affair. The former officer is currently serving 10 years for sexually assaulting a woman while on duty as a Georgetown police officer.
"All of the evidence that we've accumulated, it points to him," Reed said.
While he is forced to look back, Reed also thinks about the future and a chance to be with his children.
"They're grown men now. I missed a lot. I missed out a lot on them," he said.
It's what keeps him hanging on to the thought of a life outside the walls.
"I think that there's a fresh set of eyes on the case. I think that it's possible I may be freed. I try to stay optimistic about that anyway," Reed said.
Some of Stites' family members have shown support for Reed. Others, including her sisters, have told us they are confident he killed her and it's been painful having to re-live her murder as it continues to come up in court.
"The family has never believed that he was not guilty. This is not just about Stacey this is about all the other rape victims out there," said Stites' sister Debra Oliver in November.
"We listened to everything in the trial. There was so much evidence. They're chasing butterflies that's it," said sister Crystal Dobbs.
Reed was accused of sexual assault prior to Stites' murder. According to his attorneys, he went to trial on one allegation and was acquitted. In the punishment phase of his trial in 1998, prosecutors brought in his accusers. The jury then sentenced him to death.