AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — On Friday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to recommend to Gov. Greg Abbott a 120-day delay on the execution of 47-year-old Rodney Reed, the Bastrop man convicted of the 1996 murder of Stacy Stites.
Abbott will be able to approve or reject the recommendation for the execution, which is scheduled for Wednesday. He will, however, have the option to direct another action regarding the execution.
On Friday, Lydia Clay Jackson, reacted to the news, saying:
“I’m very pleased the Parole Board found that it was in Texas’s best interest, and the interest of justice for Rodney [Reed] to get the 120 days. I am confident that Bryce [Benjet of the Innocence Project] will be able to persuade the court that he should be exonerated or granted a new trial. Because if the worse happens, Texas will have executed an innocent man.”
Reed — and the Innocence Project, which recently filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to stall the execution — say more DNA testing will prove he did not kill 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996. Stites, a bride-to-be who worked at H-E-B, was found dumped on the side of a rural road north of Bastrop after a search that began when she didn’t show up for work that morning.
“It’s funny how quickly good news can travel,” said Benjet, on Friday. “I’m still holding my breath because the Governor has the final say, and so he needs to take some action before I can exhale. I’m pretty overwhelmed at the moment. It was announced via an e-mail from the clemency director and I had to hold my breath while I clicked on it. I had to hold my tears when I read it and understood it.”
While Reed was not looked into initially, he became a suspect when investigators ran his DNA as part of a separate alleged sexual assault case that was later dropped, the Reed defense says.
Authorities said Reed’s DNA matched evidence found in the Stites case, and he was arrested and charged with capital murder in 1997.
Reed claims he had a secret and consensual relationship with Stites, which explains the DNA match. Reed’s legal team has continuously pointed the finger at Stites’ then-fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, as the killer. Investigators considered Fennell a suspect, prior to Reed’s DNA match.
Fennell was later accused of raping a woman in his custody while he was a Georgetown Police Office in 2007. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges, served 10 years in prison and was released in 2018.
Last month, a former inmate said Fennell confessed to killing Stites because she was “sleeping around with a black man behind his back.”
On Nov. 9, protesters gathered at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin in an effort to halt the execution, days after death row exonerees delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to intervene.
Friday, Roderick Reed, Rodney’s brother, reacted to the news, telling KXAN’s Alex Caprariello that while he’s delighted, he wish the recommendation was something even more significant.
“But we will take what we can get when we get it,” said Roderick. “It gives us more time to try to prove his innocence.”
Rodney’s brother said that in his heart he felt that Nov. 20 could not be the day because “the truth is out there” and the world has become aware of Rodney’s case and is standing up for him.
“Don’t get me wrong, we wish that they would have recommended something greater but we are blessed,” said Roderick. “We are going to take what we get until we get what we want. And what we want is justice. We want exoneration for Rodney Reed.”
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