Celebrities Push to Halt Rodney Reed Execution Despite Strong Evidence

Supporters of a death row inmate in Texas—who is facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn’t commit—are mounting a final push to stop his execution.

Rodney Reed is set to be executed on Nov. 20 for allegedly raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites near the Central Texas city of Bastrop on April 23, 1996, at around 3:30 local time, as she made her way to work at a supermarket.

According to the Daily Wire, the DNA evidence against Reed was overwhelming at the time, with his semen having been found on multiple parts of the teen’s body.

The 51-year-old has long maintained his innocence claiming that Stites fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer.

Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black. According to court documents however, Reed initially denied knowing Ms. Stites.

“I didn’t know her, never met her, never talked to her, had no idea who she is,” Reed told Sergeant David Board of the Bastrop Police Department, the documents read. “The only thing I know was what I saw on TV.”

Reed’s attorneys have presented affidavits that appear to support his claims, including one by a former prison inmate who said Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur.

Reed’s efforts to stop his execution have received support from such celebrities as Rihanna, Dr. Phil, and Kim Kardashian West, who last month in a tweet said “How insane!!!! New witness comes forward that Rodeny was NOT the murderer!!!! He is set to be executed Nov 20th.”

Reed’s attorney and his brother, Rodrick Reed, believe race played a role in the case—which was brought before an all white jury—and touched on “old tropes” about interracial relationships.

Reed’s attorneys in August filed a federal lawsuit to compel DNA testing of crime scene evidence believing it could identify someone else as the murderer. The lawsuit is still pending.

“To execute Mr. Reed would be a grave miscarriage of justice,” said Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed.

Prosecutors on the other hand say Reed’s semen was found in the victim, and his claims of an affair with Stites were never proven. Fennell was cleared as a suspect at the time.

Reed also had a history of committing other sexual assaults. At Reed’s trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Reed had assaulted five other women and a 12-year-old girl.

“Our office is dedicated to seeing that no innocent person is punished. This is simply not such a case and we owe it to Ms. Stites’ family, friends and the many other victims of Mr. Reed to see that justice is done at last,” Lisa Tanner, with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement.

Fennell’s attorney, Bob Phillips, said his client vehemently denies killing Stites and that he was heartbroken by her death.

“All the evidence makes it plain as day that Rodney Reed is the killer and these fantastic 11th hour attempts to implicate Jimmy are the same song, 200th verse,” Phillips said.

The defense is also claiming “a proper examination of forensic evidence shows that Stites was killed hours before she and Reed could have crossed paths,” when she was at home with Fennell.

Supporters rally to stop the execution of Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed
Supporters rally to stop the execution of Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed outside the governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Weber)

Reed’s attorneys allege Fennell had a propensity for sexual assault and violence, which they say was confirmed by his conviction after Stites’ death on a sexual assault charge from when he was a police officer.

Phillips said Fennell, who was paroled last year, has turned his life around and now helps substance abusers.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last month denied Reed’s request for a stay of his execution. An appeal is pending with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reed’s lawyers have asked Abbott—who has granted just one reprieve to stop an execution since he came to office in January 2015—to grant a 30-day reprieve and to review a possible commutation of his sentence.

“I believe with all of the support that we have been receiving, it should send a strong and powerful message to the governor and to the world as to my brother’s innocence. I am very hopeful that justice will be done in this case, not just for my brother, but for Stacey Stites as well,” said Rodrick Reed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.