BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) – Death row inmate Rodney Reed, who has maintained his innocence in the killing of Stacey Stites, is heading back to Bastrop District Court for a hearing this week that could alter the trajectory of his decades-long legal battle.
Reed’s defense team says it will show new evidence that points to Jimmy Fennell, 44, Stites’ fiancé at the time of her death, as the real killer.
In this writ of habeas corpus hearing, Reed’s defense team says it will present evidence that Fennell gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts the night and morning Stites disappeared and was killed. Fennell told investigators he was in his Giddings apartment sleeping when Stites left for her early morning shift at a Bastrop grocery store on April 23, 1996.
However, Fennell told his friend, Bastrop County Sheriff’s Deputy Curtis Davis, that he had been out drinking and came home late the night of Stites’ disappearance, according to Reed’s attorneys.
Fennell could testify at this week’s hearing. He was served with a bench warrant last week, according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman. Fennell is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for kidnapping and improper relations with a person in custody. A woman accused Fennell of raping her in 2007, while she was in his custody. He was a Georgetown police officer at the time. He took a plea deal, and the charges were reduced. He is expected to be released from prison in 2018.
In March of 2017, Fennell was denied parole because his record indicates his original offenses indicated a “conscious disregard for the lives, safety or property of others, such that the offender poses a continuing threat to public safety,” according to TDCJ records.
The state was just days from executing Reed in 2015, before the State Court of Criminal Appeals postponed it. His execution date has remained open.
A support group called We Demand Justice: Support Rodney Reed has had rallies throughout the years calling for Reed to be released.
“We still think he deserves a new trial, and we believe that should be the outcome of this hearing but for many of us at this point we feel his conviction at this point could also be overturned by the court of criminal appeals,” Lily Hughes with the group said.
During Reed’s original trial, prosecutors said Stites was on her way to work when Reed abducted, raped and dumped her on the side of a rural road near Lake Bastrop. Reed’s DNA matched a sample taken from Stites. Reed said the couple had a clandestine sexual relationship, which would explain the presence of the DNA.
Reed’s defense previously brought in independent forensic investigators to review Stites’ autopsy. The experts called into question the time of death estimate used by the prosecution at trial and said Stites could have been killed hours earlier and moved to the spot she was found.
Carol Stites, Stacy’s mother, believes Reed is the real killer and doesn’t believe Reed’s claim that he and Stacy were having an affair.
“They can talk to me about anything — about her being Rodney’s girlfriend — and it’s not true because that was not Stacy,” Carol Stites said. “I have listened to them talk about her for 20 years and I am fed up with it. I am fed up with it more than you will ever know. Because that was not Stacy. Stacy was a friendly, loving person that worked hard for what she was doing about getting ready for her wedding. That’s the way I’m going to remember her.”
The latest Bastrop County hearings will take place over four days, from Oct. 10-13. KXAN will be at the hearings to provide the latest developments in the case.
Follow KXAN’s David Barer for the latest happenings in the courtroom: