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BASTROP — Far more than two many years following Rodney Reed was sentenced to demise for the murder of 19-yr-aged Stacey Stites, doubts about his guilt and the part race may well have performed in his 1998 conviction continue on to haunt this Central Texas city.
On Monday,a decide appointed to reexamine the case slammed the door on Reed’s very best probability to steer clear of execution, releasing his conclusions that newly presented proof is not adequate to grant Reed a new demo.
The ruling by retired point out District Judge J.D. Langley is a spectacular setback for attempts to earn Reed’s independence in a circumstance that has spawned international focus and outrage, often cited by Reed’s supporters as an case in point of a Black person railroaded by an American legal justice method.
Langley’s suggestion, issued two weeks right after he read attorneys’ closing arguments at the Bastrop County courthouse, now goes to the Texas Courtroom of Prison Appeals, which has the last say in the issue.
It is an explosive change right after practically a quarter-century of court docket battles in excess of the 1996 Bastrop County killing. Reed, now 53, and his supporters have prolonged proclaimed his innocence, pointing blame at Stites’ fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Stites’ loved ones and condition attorneys remain certain of Reed’s guilt.
Reed, a Black guy, was discovered responsible of murdering Stites, a white female, and sentenced to dying by an all-white jury. Fennell, a white person, is a previous Giddings police officer.
“The Courtroom of Legal Appeals has repeatedly thought of [Reed’s] allegations of innocence … and discovered them wanting,” Langley wrote in his findings.
Langley’s rejection of a new demo comes virtually two years right after Reed’s impending execution was halted amid deafening phone calls for more assessment of his conviction from a bipartisan team of Texas lawmakers, quite a few A-record famous people and thousands and thousands of persons who signed online petitions. Just after years of appeals, the Texas Court of Felony Appeals, the state’s maximum criminal court, ordered the demo court in 2019 to weigh no matter if Reed is harmless of Stites’ murder.
But the substantial courtroom can nonetheless rule towards Langley and grant Reed a new demo. It is unclear when the courtroom will make a determination.
Reed’s family members was hopeful that, right after paying out extra than 23 yrs on loss of life row, Reed could possibly at last earn a new trial, his brother reported very lastthirty day period. Langley presided about a approximately two-7 days hearing this summer time to evaluate promises of Reed’s innocence, and look at no matter if Bastrop County prosecutors withheld evidence or put false proof prior to jurors.
“That’s all we request for is a honest trial,” Rodrick Reed mentioned outside of a Bastrop County courtroom following Langley listened to closing arguments in the circumstance. “My brother by no means experienced that from the starting. It was a Jim Crow demo straight out of the gate.”
Reed’s lawyers explained Monday that they look forward to presenting Reed’s case to Texas’ high criminal courtroom.
“If a new jury heard the mind-boggling evidence of Rodney Reed’s innocence, it would have reasonable doubts. Convicted by an all-white jury, Mr. Reed has spent 23 a long time on loss of life row for a crime he did not dedicate,” mentioned Jane Pucher with the Innocence Venture. “We hope the Courtroom of Felony Appeals acknowledges that he must be supplied a new trial.”
The two a long time because Rodney Reed’s conviction have observed a simmering combine of emotion, uncertainty and accusations of racism as his appeals have wound their way through the courts.
Stites was engaged to Fennell, but Reed mentioned he and Stites were also romantically involved.
Equally Reed and Fennell have been accused of other sexual assaults. Reed was indicted, but under no circumstances convicted, in many other rape instances months just before his demo in Stites’ loss of life began in 1998. Fennell put in 10 several years in prison immediately after he kidnapped and allegedly raped a female while on obligation as a police officer in 2007.
In his 50-webpage ruling, Langley sided with the state’s arguments that Fennell was a credible witness, giving bodyweight to his description of Stites leaving their apartment to go to function the morning before she was identified useless. Langley also credited Fennell and family members as depicting the couple’s romantic relationship as pleased and that both equally have been energized about their approaching wedding ceremony. Langley discounted the 17 witnesses brought ahead by Reed who mentioned possibly Stites and Reed were being at least friendly before her murder, or that Fennell experienced acted suspiciously soon after the murder or was violent and controlling towards Stites.
The choose discounted Reed’s witnesses in aspect, he mentioned, since they “waited many years to carry forth … ‘recollection.’” Andrew MacRae, just one of Reed’s lawyers, however, argued to Langley in Oct that the witnesses did not purposefully wait to discuss but had been simply hardly ever sought out by investigators.
“These folks did not arrive forward, we found them,” he countered through his closing arguments.
On April 23, 1996, Stites’ physique was uncovered by the aspect of a rural Bastrop County highway, partially unclothed, hrs just after she missed her shift at a local grocery keep, in accordance to courtroom data. Fennell’s truck was identified abandoned in a nearby faculty parking ton. Items of Stites’ belt, which is thought to have been used to strangle her, were being uncovered at each locations.
Originally, Fennell, a nearby police officer, was a suspect, discovered to be misleading on two polygraph checks when questioned in the killing. But he was cleared immediately after investigators could not account for how he could have gotten back with no his truck to the couple’s condominium in the nearby town of Giddings by the time Stites was noted missing, courtroom records state. Fennell informed law enforcement Stites had taken his truck in the early early morning to go to work. When Stites’ mom, who lived in a close by condominium unit, called to convey to him Stites’ coworker experienced reported she never ever confirmed up, Fennell was house.
Reed’s attorneys have argued that Fennell was hardly ever properly investigated. Law enforcement relied too greatly on his claim that Stites had remaining for get the job done alive, they stated, applying that to estimate her time of death without ever browsing the couple’s apartment to see if there experienced been any indications of a wrestle. And investigators were late to interview Fennell or the couple’s neighbors, Reed’s lawyers advised the court docket this thirty day period. The male who lived instantly beneath the couple instructed a Giddings-location law enforcement formal right after the murder that the couple normally fought. He was never ever interviewed by Bastrop investigators, Reed’s attorneys said.
Semen identified in Stites’ entire body led law enforcement to consider she was sexually assaulted prior to remaining murdered. Practically a 12 months following her dying, sperm cells from Stites’ system ended up found to match Reed, which prosecutors known as the “smoking gun” of the criminal offense. Prosecutors have because argued that Reed stopped Stites though she was driving to get the job done, then sexually assaulted and killed her.
“The truth is, your honor, that Rodney Reed kidnapped, brutally raped and violently murdered Stacey Stites,” Travis Bragg, an assistant Texas legal professional general, advised Langley final thirty day period.
Reed counters that he and Stites were being in a casual romantic relationship and had consensual sexual intercourse the working day just before her disappearance. Stites’ family members deny the two understood each individual other prior to her death. Numerous folks who knew Stites have explained since Reed’s conviction that they noticed the two alongside one another.
In the a long time due to the fact the murder, forensic professionals have altered their statements on what the existence of sperm signifies. At Reed’s trial, authorities testified that Stites was sexually assaulted just prior to her death, and that the sperm cells would have been unlikely to continue to be in Stites’ human body for far more than 24 hrs. The medical examiner and other industry experts have because reported there was no proof the sperm matching Reed was a final result of sexual assault, and it could have remained in Stites’ overall body for far more than a day soon after consensual intercourse.
Reed’s attorneys also argue that forensic examination, like the stiffness of her system and pooling of her blood, can make it additional probable Stites died just before the time when Fennell claimed she remaining for operate, despite her being in her do the job garments. With their individual professionals knocking down the locating of rape and presuming a time of death when Fennell stated he was by itself with Stites, Reed’s attorneys say his innocence claim is strong.
“Without [forensic evidence], the only thing the state has is the word of Jimmy Fennell,” Pucher mentioned in court.
Langley sided with point out forensic professionals, even so, who argued Stites could have been sexually assaulted, and gave credence to the time of death furnished based on Fennell’s testimony of her leaving for get the job done, in component because Stites’ body was located in her get the job done garments.
As the a long time have long gone by, defense lawyers have discovered several witnesses to bolster Reed’s assert that he and Stites had an affair, and position additional suspicion on Fennell. A number of individuals, together with some of Stites’ co-employees, explained they experienced seen Stites and Reed collectively beforehand. Some, Reed’s attorneys argue, informed regulation enforcement at the time of the murder about seeing Reed and Stites collectively, but such proof was under no circumstances investigated or provided to defense attorneys.
Other men and women have due to the fact advised attorneys that Fennell and Stites’ marriage was troubled. A fellow law enforcement officer reported she read Fennell say that he would strangle Stites with a belt if he at any time found out she cheated on him. A previous sheriff’s deputy said he read Fennell inform Stites’ body at her funeral that she deserved what she got. And yet another deputy from a different county mentioned Fennell advised him prior to the murder that he believed Stites was obtaining intercourse with a Black guy. A male who was in prison with Fennell soon after the 2007 kidnapping and rape circumstance instructed attorneys that Fennell confessed to him that he killed Stites.
To Stites’ family, the prosecution and Langley, the recently identified witnesses are not credible. Condition lawyers experienced a memory skilled testify that people today can falsely bear in mind issues due to the fact of media impact. They hope Reed’s conviction will be upheld and the appeals will close, pointing to his sperm in Stites’ overall body and his indictments in four other suspected or tried rapes in Bastrop County — two near the similar time and spot the condition stated Stites was killed.
“Rodney Reed is a serial rapist and a murderer,” claimed Debra Oliver, Stites’ older sister, outside the courtroom last month. “Texas requires to eventually have justice prevail, and more than enough is enough. We have been working with this for 25 a long time.”
Just after the ruling Monday, Oliver said in a statement unveiled by way of a group that advocates for Reed’s continued conviction that she was pleased with the ruling, but that it failed to bring her sister back.
“I am hopeful that the Texas Courtroom of Legal Appeals will cease Reed from depriving one more family members of their cherished one and that he will hardly ever be equipped to victimize a different female,” she said.
But for Reed and his lawyers, with no forensic proof proving Stites was raped and died immediately after she left for do the job, the witnesses who have given that been found by investigative attorneys are much more credible than Fennell. During the hearing before Langley, MacRae scoffed at the prosecution and Fennell for discounting the a lot of witnesses as lying or misremembering, however insisting that Fennell is truthful.
“People who have no axe to grind and who corroborate each other: not credible,” MacRae reported, impersonating the prosecution’s arguments. “A convicted rapist and kidnapper who stands to go to prison for the rest of his existence if Rodney Reed is acquitted and who states everyone else is lying: he’s credible.”
If you or a person you know has been sexually assaulted, you can get private support by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest Countrywide Network’s 24/7 toll-cost-free assist line at 800-656-4673 or visiting its on the net hotline.
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