AUSTIN, Texas — In the first episode of Texas Crime Files, KVUE began to look at the case of Rodney Reed, a man on Texas death row, who has an execution date of Nov. 20.
Reed was found guilty of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old Texas woman, Stacey Stites.
A growing chorus of Reed's supporters say he deserves a new trial, as new information has emerged that may exonerate him.
Stites' body was found raped and murdered off a highway in Bastrop County, Texas, in 1996. At the time of her death, Stites was engaged to be married to a local police officer, Jimmy Fennell.
After Stites' body was found, investigators hit a dead end.
Although her fiance was suspected, alongside failing two polygraph tests, his DNA did not match that which was found on Stites' body.
So whose DNA was it exactly? What led the police to charge Reed with Stites' death?
The link was a woman named Linda Schlueter.
Schlueter told KVUE news reporter Kris Betts she had gotten lost late one night after leaving a Bastrop County movie house.
In order to get directions home, she had stopped at an outdoor payphone and stayed in her car as she dialed a number, and that's when a man walked up asking her for a ride.
The incident she described to KVUE happened about six months after Stites' death.
Schlueter: “I left the movie theater, probably about 11:30, with a friend of mine and drove to Bastrop. I wasn’t familiar with the place – at all ... while I was using the payphone through my car window a gentleman came in front of my car and I jumped and he said:
"'I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,' and I was like, 'That’s OK,' and I proceeded to use the payphone through my car ... that’s when he said, 'Hey do you think you can give me a ride?' and I said, 'No ... I don’t know you. I’m so sorry.'
"I kept talking to whoever I was on the phone with and I was like, 'Somebody just asked me for a ride,' and then he said, on the phone with somebody else, 'She won’t give me a ride ... I guess I’ll just freeze to death,' and it just made me feel bad. I was only 19 at the time. I was like, 'Where do you live?' and he said 'on Main Street' and in my mind Main Street is this big, lit-up road, so I was like ... 'OK, well I’ll give you a ride.'
"So I gave him a ride, and as soon as we get to Main Street we took a right and start to go down the street for a while and I was like, 'Well where do you live?' because it was starting to get darker and he said, 'Right over the railroad tracks' ... So we go over the railroad tracks and it gets darker ... He said, 'You’re going to take a left down there on the dirt road,' and I said 'no.' I started to feel really uncomfortable and I said, 'I’m not taking my car down that dirt road,' ... and he said, 'Well I guess you can take me back to where the wide in the road is,' and I was like 'OK,' so I take him back there and I’m feeling really uncomfortable.
"He starts to get out and gets back in and goes, 'Don’t I get a hug?' ... and I said, 'I gave you a ride, don’t screw me over – get out,' and the next thing I know he has me by the back of my hair slamming my face in the steering wheel.
"I punch him backward, and I open the door, I scream so loud that I peed my pants and I just kept punching, and we got out. We start fighting a little bit. He got me by my hair and slammed me back into the car while I was in the driver's seat, so I tried to put the car in drive and push on the gas, but he got his foot on the brake, and then he took my head and he slammed it on the next seat ... I got back into the backseat and started kicking him in the face, but he still had my hair through this whole thing.
"Finally, we got out and we were fighting again ... I asked him, 'What do you want? What the hell do you want from me?' and he said, 'I want a blowjob,' and I said, 'You’ll have to kill me if you want anything form me,' and he said, 'I guess I have to kill ya then'
"And so we fought. I let him think he had both of my hands with one of his hands and I was in the passenger seat, he was in the driver’s seat, and as soon as he turned the car back around going toward the dirt road I punched him in the face again, and then I tried to jump out. When I tried to jump out, he grabbed my hair again, so I was dragging on the ground. I told myself to get up, get up, get up...
"We probably fought for another three to five minutes, and finally – I had a cross on my neck – he ripped the cross off, and I was trying to get the cross, and at the same time he was dragging me by the neck to where at one point I laid down, thinking I could get under the car to get away but he stomped on my face and I sat up. He punched me in the face and he finally got to where he got me in a chokehold ... He was punching me in the side. He was trying to close the door. And then finally I looked in the rear-view mirror and there was lights. It was a car, so I punched him in the face one more time, jumped out and he stole my car."
Betts: “He just took it?”
Schlueter: “Yeah, he just took it.”
Betts: “What happened after that?”
Schlueter: "I was on the side of the road, and I was looking for the cross on the side of the road. And I was just on my knees and I was just looking, and a car pulled up and it was a car full of guys and I said, 'I need a ride. Somebody just tried to kill me and stole my car,' and they said, 'Well, we don’t have any room.' And it was a car full of African-American guys, so I was like, 'Well, can you call the cops?' and they were like, 'We will go call the cops for you,' and I was like, OK. So I ran to the next house, which was a trailer, and a guy’s dog was barking outside and I screamed and I said, 'I need help – somebody just tried to kill me and stole my car,' and he said, 'Well, I don’t have a phone,' and I said, 'Well, can you take me to the police station?' and he said, 'My diesel takes too long to warm up.' So, I go to the next trailer, and it was an older couple, and so they call the cops, the cops came and identified who it was, exactly what he was wearing, where I picked him up, what time it was and everything else."
Schlueter identified her attacker from a mugshot.
Schlueter: "I picked him out immediately, no doubt at all."
It was a picture of Reed.
Schlueter: "I had no doubt it was him"
A grand jury found enough evidence to indict him with intent to commit sexual assault against Schlueter and for unauthorized use of her vehicle. But that case didn’t to go trial because of what happened next – a DNA connection between Reed and Stites. Not only did investigators have the mugshot that Schlueter had chosen, they had a DNA sample from Reed from a separate case when a woman claimed he had sexually assaulted her. Those charges are still pending.
On a hunch, investigators decided to compare Reed’s DNA from that earlier rape case with the DNA found in Stites’ body. It was a match. Reed was arrested and charged with Stites’ murder.
When police questioned him, he said he didn’t know Stites, but later admitted that, yes, it was his DNA in Stites' body because they were having a secret affair and they had sex the night before she was found dead. Reed has consistently said he is innocent and his family has stood by him. His brother, Rodrick Reed, spoke with Betts.
Rodrick: “My brother, like anyone – no one out here is perfect, no one’s a saint. But I want everybody to know that he did not murder Stacey Stites – OK, that’s why we’re here. That’s what were trying to get to the bottom of. That’s why they are trying to execute him. He did not murder Stacey Stites."
Betts: “Had he ever talked about Stacey before the trial, at all?”
Rodrick: "Yeah, I knew about Stacey, everybody knew about Stacey. Stacey used to come to this park right here, before it was actually a park. They came here, they met here. They used to meet at my parents' house here. You know what I mean – all around the neighborhood."
We’ll hear more from Reed and his family in future episodes and from those who claim he did not get a fair trial, as well as from others who point out the appellate courts have consistently upheld Reed’s conviction.
In episode three, Dave Harmon, a former justice reporter at the Austin American-Statesman who covered the entire trial, talks to KVUE.
Harmon: “I came out of being a court house reporter being much more skeptical of our justice system.”
The trial of Reed and its aftermath is on our next episode of Texas Crime Files, on Nov. 13.
Texas Crime Files is available on the KVUE YouTube page, and wherever you get your podcasts.
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