Texas parole board recommends delaying Rodney Reed’s execution

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has unanimously recommended that Governor Greg Abbott grant a 120-day execution reprieve for death row inmate Rodney Reed as a growing chorus of supporters point to evidence they say casts doubt on his guilt.

Abbott’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from CBS News as to whether the governor would grant the reprieve. The governor has so far not weighed in on the case.   

Reed, who is black, was convicted in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman who was 19 years old. Prosecutors claimed Reed intercepted Stites as she drove to work, raped and strangled her and left her body in a remote area. They cited Reed’s sperm found inside Stites’ body as evidence of Reed’s guilt.

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Reed said he was having an affair with Stites and had consensual sex with her the day before her death, but he has long denied killing her. As his Nov. 20 execution date looms, the case has gained intense national spotlight, with more than 2.9 million people signing a petition urging clemency and high-profile supporters including Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, and Meek Mill voicing support on social media.

Reed’s lawyers submitted an application for clemency to the parole board last month arguing that new witnesses have come forward that implicate Stites’ fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, who would later serve time in an unrelated on-duty kidnapping. One of those witnesses, a prison inmate, claimed in an affidavit that Fennell confessed to him that he killed Stites because he discovered the affair. The inmate said in his affidavit that Fennell told him during the jailhouse conversation, “I had to kill my n—-r-loving fiancée.”

Rodney Reed CBS Austin

Fennell, through his lawyer Bob Phillips, has denied wrongdoing and dismissed the claims of the new witnesses, asking why they would wait to come forward. Phillips has said Fennell was devastated by Stites’ death.

The petition for clemency says that new science casts doubt on the prosecution’s case that Stites was raped just before she was murdered. They cite forensic experts who say that the small amount of sperm found in Stites’ body supported Reed’s story that he had had consensual sex with Stites the day before her murder, and that sperm could survive up to 72 hours in the body after sex. The medical examiner whose trial testimony had bolstered the state’s timeline later changed his account, according to the commutation request, saying there was no evidence to indicate the presence of Reed’s sperm in Stites’ body was the result of a sexual assault.

The petition for clemency asked the board to recommend the 120-day reprieve or to recommend that Abbott commute Reed’s sentence to life in prison. The board agreed to recommend the reprieve, but not the commutation.

Reed has state and federal appeals pending and has also appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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