Is Rodney Reed Guilty or Innocent? The Evidence in the Case

Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Rodney Reed was convicted in the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites largely due to his DNA found in her body. Prosecutors say the evidence indicates she was raped.

However, Reed has maintained he had a consensual relationship with Stites, and that they had sex before she was murdered. His attorneys say this affair led to her murder and pin the blame on her fiance, Jimmy Fennell.

Reed faces the death penalty in Stites’ 1996 murder in a Bastrop, a suburb of Austin, Texas. He was scheduled to be executed on November 20, 2019, but his execution was stayed as the date approached. The case is being examined on a new episode of 20/20, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, November 11, 2020.

Here’s what you need to know:

Prosecutors & Defense Attorneys Disagree About What Reed’s DNA Means to Stites’ Murder Case

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Stites’ murder case agree that Reed’s DNA was found in Stites’ body. But prosecutors say his DNA was found because Reed raped her, while he and his legal team say they had an affair which led her fiance to kill her. An autopsy provided further evidence Stites was raped, due to injuries around her genitals, according to an appeal filed in his case. But that finding was later contested.

The appeal said:

Dr. Robert Bayardo, the Travis County Medical Examiner, conducted Stites’s autopsy the day after her body was found. He determined that Stites died around 3:00 a.m. on April 23rd. He also concluded that the belt was the murder weapon and that Stites died of asphyxiation by strangulation. Like Blakley, Bayardo presumed Stites was sexually assaulted, took vaginal swabs, and found sperm with both heads and tails intact. He also took rectal swabs but found only sperm heads with no tails. He noted that her anus was dilated with superficial lacerations. Dr. Bayardo thought the presence of sperm in the anus was indicative of penile penetration, but noted that it may have been attributed to seepage from the vagina. He concluded that Stites’s anal injuries occurred at or around the time of death and therefore were not acts of consensual sexual activity.

Expert forensic pathologist Michael Baden contended Bayardo confused normal body degradation with signs of sexual assault, according to KXAN. Baden also signed a statement saying he no longer believes the autopsy showed evidence of sexual assault.

“For 15 years there’s been forensic evidence in this case that not only contradicts but disproves the evidence that was used to convict Mr. Reed, and this hearing is an opportunity for that to be aired,” Benjet told reporters after the hearing,” the statement said, according to KXAN.

Stites’ family has denied she was having an affair with Reed. In a tearful interview with 20/20, they said they should not have to defend her when she is not alive to defend herself. Her mom, Carol Stites, said she was excited to marry Jimmy Fennell.

“Stacey was human. She was leading a good life, and all she wanted to do was get married and have a baby,” she said.

Stites was murdered just 18 days before her wedding. She was strangled to death on her way to her 3:30 a.m. shift at H.E.B., a local grocery store chain. She took the early shift to help pay for her wedding gown, according to a 1998 article in the Austin American-Statesman.

A Member of the Aryan Brotherhood Said Stites’ Fiance Confessed to Killing Her

Stites’ fiance was a local police officer who was accused of raping a woman he detained while he was on duty in Texas in 2007. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of kidnapping and improper sexual activity, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to TIME magazine. He was released in March 2018.

During his time in prison, another inmate alleged Fennell confessed to killing Stites. The inmate, Arthur Snow, was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and serving a sentence for forgery. He signed an affidavit describing the alleged confession.

He said he and Fennell were “never really friends” but talked occasionally. During one conversation, he said Fennell was talking about his fiance “with a lot of hatred and resentment.” Snow claimed Fennell said his fiancee “had been sleeping with a black man behind his back.”

“By the way Jimmy spoke about the experience, I could tell that it deeply angered him,” the affidavit says. “Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n*****-loving fiance.”

Snow was not familiar with Reed’s case or Stites’ murder at the time, the affidavit said. Eventually, he saw a newspaper article including a picture of Reed and Fennell and “everything came together.” But he did not come forward immediately, the affidavit says.

The affidavit says:

In the years since I saw that newspaper article, though I was not a young man then, I finally started to grow up. I had grandkids. I started to look at the world differently. I let go of some of my prejudices. I looked at the situation differently and tried to put myself in Rodney Reed’s shoes. When I did, it weighed on my conscience. Recently, after having again landed myself in the Hays County Jail, I saw another newspaper article about Jimmy Fennell and Rodney Reed. I knew that I couldn’t ignore this memory anymore. I had to come forward with what I knew.

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