New voices continue to shake Rodney Reed case

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Rodney Reed’s death-row case is 20 years old, but new individuals related to the trial continue to come forward with concerns about the verdict.

A Bastrop jury sentenced Reed to death for the 1996 rape and strangulation murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Reed has always maintained his innocence. Over the years, Reed’s defense has repeatedly brought pieces of new evidence to light, including forensic analysis and witnesses that appear to undermine the state’s original case.

KXAN now hears, for the first time, a member of the original jury that convicted Reed of capital murder. She says the trial evidence persuaded her to vote guilty, but new information raises doubts about that decision.

“I have questions about whether Rodney was really guilty,” said the juror, who spoke on a condition of anonymity to CrimeWatch Daily. “Since then there have been a lot of things that I’ve learned in that 20 years, heard about, that have made me wonder if Rodney was framed.”

New evidence

Police found Stites' body discarded along a rural Bastrop County road in the Lost Pines forest. The zipper on her pants was broken; her shirt was removed; strangulation markings ringed her neck. Former Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo, performed the autopsy.

In a 2012 sworn affidavit, Bayardo recanted some critical points in his original autopsy. He said the prosecution misconstrued his time-of-death estimate. He also said it was not clear that Stites was raped or that the DNA evidence indicated sodomy, according to filings from the defense.

New witnesses have also come forward alleging they knew about an affair between Reed and Stites, which could explain the presence of his DNA. A former H-E-B grocery store colleague of Stites’ said she talked about an affair with Rodney, according to a 2014 sworn affidavit.

The defense also received sworn testimony from expert forensic pathologists who rebutted forensic evidence used at trial, including the time-of-death estimate. Those pathologists’ conclusions pointed to a different possible killer: Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell, according to defense briefs.

During the murder investigation, police considered Fennell a person of interest, but they never settled on him. Now, he sits in a Texas prison for crimes of his own.

Kidnapping and improper sexual conduct

At the time of Stites’ murder, Fennell worked as a Giddings Police officer. After her death, he moved to the Georgetown Police Department. It was there that Fennell broke the law himself, in 2007.

A woman he was transporting, Connie Lear, accused him of sexual assault. Now Lear has spoken out about the incident, for the first time.

Lear says Fennell was giving her a ride to a hotel in his police cruiser, following an argument with her boyfriend. Fennell stopped the car and raped Lear, she said.

“He took his gun out, placed it against my head, and he pulled my pants down,” Lear said in an interview with CrimeWatch. “He just kept telling me to shut up, and he asked me to dance for him, and I told him no. And when I told him, ‘no,’ he got mad, and he grabbed me, and slammed me up against the back of his car where his trunk is.”

Lear said the incident ended after Fennell handed her one of his business cards. He told Lear he wanted to see her the next day, after his child’s soccer game.

Lear said Fennell threatened her, too . “If I told anybody…he’d hunt me down when he got out of prison and kill me,” she said.

Lisa Tanner, an assistant attorney general and a prosecutor at Reed’s original Bastrop trial, told CrimeWatch, “none of the evidence that has developed since the trial has led us away from that conclusion that he is guilty.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stayed Reed’s execution, as new evidence and requests for DNA testing brought by the defense are reviewed. It is not clear when the stay will be lifted.

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