Bastrop judge recommends against new trial for Rodney Reed

Rodney Reed in Bastrop County District Court on Oct. 10, 2017 for a hearing. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Rodney Reed in Bastrop County District Court on Oct. 10, 2017 for a hearing. (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) – The visiting judge who oversaw an October hearing of new evidence in the Rodney Reed case has made a recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals against Reed getting a new trial, according to Reed’s defense attorney.

Visiting Judge Doug Shaver’s recommendation for a decision in favor of the state is an obstacle for Reed’s defense. However, Reed’s attorney Bryce Benjet said it is not a final decision. The Appeals Court will make the ultimate decision in the coming months.

Reed was convicted in Bastrop County of capital murder in the rape and killing of 21-year-old Stacey Stites. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence and is currently represented by the Innocence Project.

“Every fact we alleged in our application to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was proven without contradiction at the week-long hearing conducted last October,” Benjet said in a written statement. “We look forward to presenting this substantial case to the court. Over the past 20 years, the evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence continues to mount, and we are confident that he will ultimately be vindicated.”

“The evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence continues to mount, and we are confident that he will ultimately be vindicated.”

The Appeals Court remanded Reed’s case back to Bastrop County for further findings of fact after Reed’s defense discovered comments made by a friend of Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, that appeared to call Fennell’s alibi into question.

Curtis Davis, a Bastrop County investigator and former friend of Fennell, told CNN in an interview that Fennell said he was out drinking and came home late the night Stites was killed. At trial in 1997, Fennell said he stayed home the night Stites died.

During testimony in October in Bastrop, however, Davis said critical details he gave in the CNN interview were “assumptions,” and he could not recall details from 20 years ago.

Reed’s defense called a raft of witnesses during the week long hearing, including a forensic pathology expert who provided evidence that contradicted the state’s estimate of the time of Stites’ death.

Attorneys for the state poked holes in several other witness recollections, showing how cloudy their memories of a night 20 years prior were.

Reed’s defense has pointed to Fennell as the possible killer. Fennell is currently in prison for kidnapping and improper sexual act with a person in his custody. He was accused of rape by a woman he took into custody as a Georgetown police officer in 2007. Fennell was going to be called to testify at the October hearing, but he indicated he would plead the Fifth Amendment and did not sit for questioning.

Reed was scheduled to be executed in March of 2015. The Appeals Court stayed his execution just days before it was set to take place, and the stay remains.

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