In April of 1996, Stacey Stites was murdered. Nearly a year later, 29-year-old Rodney Reed was arrested and charged with capital murder after sperm with his DNA was found inside of the victim. Prosecutors argued that this was enough to hold him responsible for her brutal rape and murder.
Rodney Reed has maintained his innocence from Day 1. Aside from the DNA inside of her, from a consensual relationship, according to him, there is no other evidence that supports his involvement. Despite this, an all white jury convicted him of the crime and he was sentenced to die by lethal injection.
His execution date was set for November 20, 2019, but he was granted a stay of execution. Right now, he does not have a new execution date. While many continue to fight to clear his name, many others, including Stacey's family, are convicted Rodney is the killer.
In the early morning of April 23, 1966, 19-year-old Stacey Stitles didn't show up for her shift at the grocery store in Bastrop, Texas. Her coworkers assumed she was just running a bit late and began opening up the store, believing she would arrive any minute. But, she never showed.
About 2 hours after her scheduled arrival time, Stacey's car, the one she normally took to work, was spotted in the Bastrop High School parking lot. At the time, however, Stacey wasn't reported missing, and so a patrol officer who thought it was suspicious that a car was there so early in the morning, kept driving.
By 7, her coworker was becoming worried. She called Stacey's mom, who immediately called her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, a police officer. Stacey was reported missing, and a search started nearly immediately. By 3pm that day, however, her partially nude body was discovered in a wooded area. She had been strangled to death with her own belt, and DNA from an uknown male was in and on her body.
Jimmy became the prime suspect, having been the last to see her alive. However, nothing stuck. The DNA didn't match, which ruled him out nearly immediately. (I'm going to say this now - some of the information I share is coming from "freerodneyreed.com", which will obviously be heavily biased towards his innocence. However, it is cited pretty well so I'll go for it.) So, Jimmy's DNA didn't match. But, he failed 2 lie detector tests. And he had a history of violence against women, including a kidnap and sexual assault of a woman while he was on duty, which landed him 10 years in prison. There are also sworn affidavits from witnesses saying that he had threatened to kill his fiance before. So, definitely a questionable guy.
But, without DNA, he was ruled out as a suspect. And so the case went cold. But 1 year later, the police land a match on the DNA: Rodney Reed, a 29-year-old Black man who had some previous run-ins with the police. He initially denied knowing Stacey, but when the police announce they have DNA evidence, he changed his story and said that they had a secret affair, explaining his DNA inside of her.
Rodney was found guilty of murder and given the death penalty. He maintains that he is innocent, and was set up by Stacey's jealous, racist cop fiance, Fennell.
A variety of entities, including the Innocence Project, have fought for Rodney's conviction to be overturned. Many websites are dedicated to sharing facts from the case, and diverging suspicion away from Rodney. Given that the case happened in Texas, and the victim was a white woman, it would certainly not be the first time that a Black man took the fall for a crime he didn't commit.
At the time of the trial, no one corroborated that Rodney and Stacey were seeing each other consensually. But in recent years, Stacey's own cousin and coworker corroborated that the two were romantically involved. Additionally, the murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence, and 3 forensic experts admitted on the record that they had errors in their testimonies, which could have led to Rodney's conviction.
Additionally, a slew of forensic pathologists have concluded that Rodney's guilt is "medically and scientifically impossible", the testimony supporting the theory that his semen being present meant his guilt being recanted later on.
And on top of that, Jimmy is suspicious as hell. His best friend at the time of the crime has now revealed that he gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder. And, recently 2 witnesses, including an insurance salesperson and a Deputy in the Lee County Sheriff's Office, came forward and signed affidavits that claim he had threatened to kill Stacey before. Oh, and he served a 10 year prison sentence for sexual assault and kidnapping of a woman after Stacey's death.
And, lastly, on October 29, 2019, allegedly he confessed. A former member of the Aryan Brotherhood and Jimmy's prison mate (so, take with a grain of salt), claimed that Jimmy had confessed to murdering Stacy, stating "I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancee". Again, grains of salt here... but a lot of the other stuff is verifiable.
But despite, at the very least, a lot of reasonable doubt, Stacey's family believes that Rodney Reed is guilty and killed Stacey. Her sister, Debra Oliver, has long believed that Rodney was her sister's killer. "Today was supposed to be the day this nightmare ended," she said of his planned execution date, which was pushed back. "Thanks to celebrities and politicians that didn't take the time to learn about the facts, today changed. Today we are fighting back, to get justice for ALL Of Rodney Reed's victims."
(Personal take here - I totally understand this. Being the sibling or loved one of a murder victim is something I cannot imagine, and I absolutely won't judge her for believing the man who was convicted is the man who did it. HOWEVER. I would also assume everyone involved wants to be certain they have the right guy. If there is even the tiniest ounce of doubt about who did it, which there obviously is, it is completely unethical to go forward with state-sanctioned murder. Executing innocent people is common, and executing innocent Black people is very common. Executing with even a shadow of a doubt is so morally horrific to me.)
Now, do I think Rodney Reed is innocent? If I only read a few articles, sure. But there is more to the story. Jimmy was arrested after Stacey's murder for sexual assault and kidnapping, yes. But so was Rodney. 6 months after Stacey's death, he was arrested and charged for kidnapping, beating, and attempting to rape a woman named Linda Schlueter. The similarities led police to investigate Rodney for Stacey's death, as well. They already had his DNA on file for another attempted rape before both Lisa and Stacey's. At the time of his conviction, he had been considered a suspect in 6 total rapes.
Though all of the affidavits and witness statements do exist, according to the prosecution, they are "utterly laughable" and says that you can find a reason to doubt the veracity of each story.
Evidence, at least circumstantial, points to either man. Was it Jimmy, a racist and violent cop who caught a Black man sleeping with his fiancee and decided to get revenge? Or was it Rodney, who had a history of sexual assault against women escalating? I don't know. But that's the thing... no one does.
It is impossible to overlook how race played into this case. A Black man in the south was convicted of a murder with very little evidence and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. That is, to me, enough to stay an execution indefinitely until they can be 100% sure they're executing the right man.
Because of this, celebrities including Beyonce, Rihanna, Busta Ryhmes, Meek Mill, Kim Kardashian and T.I. have provided support to Rodney's fight for freedom. Even a GOP congressman, Michael McCaul, sent a letter to the Texas Governor asking him to postpone Rodney's case. "A death sentence is final, and given the doubt surrounding his innocence at this time, I believe our state cannot execute Mr. Reed in good conscience."
There is a lot of back and forth. I don't think sperm inside of Stacey is enough to convict because no other DNA was found, but at the same time, he lied that he didn't know her and failed to produce any evidence that they were in a relationship. Both suspects were violent against women afterward (and, likely, before). The prosecution was unable to ever really put together a sequence of events as to how he killed her (did he overtake her while driving? Why was the truck at the school?) I don't know.
But this case is very nuanced. I think we may be able to fairly say that Rodney Reed isn't a great man. He had a history of sexual assault against woman. But that still doesn't mean he should be executed, especially if he is being executed not for those crimes. That is where I do think the race involvement can be tricky. There are a lot of people demanding he be freed, while I think the demand should be to reevaluate the case until they are certain they have the right guy. And if they can't do that, he should absolutely, positively, not be executed. Like the GOP guy said: death is final. You don't get a do-over. He's already spent most of his life behind bars.
I don't think anyone should be demanding he be executed, or demanding he should be freed. I think everyone's goal should be to find who did this. And if they can't, no one should die.
My overall analysis is that both of these men suck. Rodney had been accused of rape by multiple women, which is how they had his DNA in the first case. Jimmy raped a girl while on duty as a police officer. In my opinion, they both deserve to be behind bars. I'm not sure who deserves to be behind bars for Stacey's murder, but I'd be happy if both of them were locked up. But with the amount of unknown, neither should be sitting on death row.
Our justice system has an extensive history of racism, especially in the south. This seems like a case of that. But our justice system needs to begin to pride itself in getting it right. Even if Rodney is a scummy human with a history of violence against women, it is not right for him to be fighting for his life on death row if his guilt cannot be determined 100%.
This is an extremely tricky and nuanced case, that I could write about for hours. But, I'll stop here. For now, the right decision has been made. 1 year ago today, Rodney was supposed to be executed, and it was stayed and not rescheduled. Now, we can only hope that the right decision is made going forward.