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Will Rodney Reed get a new trial? Judge recommendation expected by Halloween

Reed's lawyers argue that Stites' fiance', Jimmy Fennell, is the real killer. The Stites family believes Reed is guilty.

BASTROP COUNTY, Texas — State and defense attorneys made their closing arguments in Rodney Reed's evidentiary hearing before Judge J.D. Langley in Bastrop on Monday.

In July, the defense started presenting what they call new evidence that surfaced since Reed was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacey Stites in 1998. The crimes happened in April of 1996.

They argued for a new trial because they say no reasonable jury could convict Reed based on that new evidence, which includes witness testimony stating Reed was having a secret affair with Stites, that Stites was in an abusive relationship with her then fiancé', Jimmy Fennell, and that Fennell was the real killer.

But state attorneys said those witnesses came forward more than 20 years later, questioned their memory and concluded they're not credible. Plus, they said forensic evidence linked Reed to Stites.

Stites' family and Reed's family weighed in.

"There's no reason – there was never any indication in 1996 that there was any type of relationship. There still never been any physical proof that there was a type, any type, of relationship. Even the witnesses that came forward saying that he talked to her then, all that does is prove to me that he stalked her and that he knew his victim and planned his attack," said Debra Oliver.

"We asked for a new trial simply because we want Rodney Reed to be exonerated from this. We want the truth to come out. To set him free will leave a void there that people have to come up with an answer, and we want to cover all areas. We don't want to leave [any] stone unturned as [the] reason we ask for a new trial," said Rodrick Reed.

Judge Langley can recommend a new trial, let the conviction stand, or let Reed go free. He plans to make the recommendation by Halloween. Then, it is up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide what happens next. There is no timetable for that decision.  

Reed has spent more than 20 years on death row after being convicted in 1998 for the 1996 murder of Stites. Reed was granted an evidentiary hearing, which took place over nine days in late July. 

After both sides make their final arguments, a judge will make a recommendation at a later date. The case will then go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Reed's conviction could stand, he could be granted a new trial or he could be released from prison. 

Reporter Jenni Lee is in Bastrop covering the hearing. Follow her on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

Timeline of Monday's court proceedings:

1:40 p.m. – Closing arguments continue. Jane Pucher with the Innocence Project is arguing for the defense. She says some of the State's scientific testimony was false and the reason they know Stites was killed between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. is based on what Jimmy Fennell said.

The defense says the forensic expert showed that sperm can live up to 24 to 26 hours in a vagina, making it possible that Reed had sex with Stites and the two were having a consensual affair. The defense says a new jury hearing that evidence would have reasonable doubt that he was guilty of her murder.

11:50 a.m. – State says after Stites was murdered, Reed said he didn't know her. After DNA linked them, the State says Reed's story changed to they were having a secret affair.

"New evidence fails to tell a complete, rational narrative that exonerates Reed," the State says.

Court breaks for lunch. Proceedings will resume at 1:20 p.m.

11:36 a.m. – The State makes its closing arguments, stating that they believe Jimmy Fennell lost the woman he loved and is not someone who masterminded a perfect crime and withstood 11 months of scrutiny as a prime suspect. The State says there is no credible evidence that Fennell murdered Stites and that all evidence points toward Reed as the killer.

The State says Fennell got on the stand and answered questions because it was important to do. Reed has never testified.

11:12 a.m. – Closing arguments continue. State attorney Travis Bragg attacks the credibility and memory of the defense witnesses who came forward 25 years later. 

10:11 a.m. – This hearing does not have a jury so the State attorney, Travis Bragg, walks the judge, attorneys and supporters through the 1996 crime scene once again. Bragg attacks the defense's theory that Jimmy Fennell killed Stacey Stites, asking why Fennell would make himself the prime suspect for 11 months.

Bragg also addresses the forensic testimony of Dr. Robert Bayardo during the trial regarding Stites' time of death.

Court takes a break.

9:30 a.m. – Closing arguments are underway. Visiting judge J.D. Langley has given both sides 2.5 hours to make their points.

Here's a full recap of the evidentiary hearing in July.


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