Judge rules against Rodney Reed

Evidence of innocence should matter

By: Marlene Martin

Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed suffered a disappointing setback when federal district Judge Lee Yeakel ruled on August 13 against compelling new evidence of Reed’s innocence.

As many readers of the New Abolitionist are aware, Rodney was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of raping and killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Semen is the only evidence linking Rodney to the crime. Rodney says that he and Stacey had been seeing each other, on and off, for a while. There are other people who can vouch that the affair was taking place. In fact, 11 people were prepared to speak to this fact at Rodney’s trial, but only two were called on.

Jimmy Fennell, Stacey’s fiancé and a police officer, was overheard saying he would strangle his girlfriend if he found out that she was cheating on him—in fact, he said he would strangle her with a belt to avoid leaving fingerprints. This is exactly the method by which Stacey was killed.

No fingerprints of Rodney’s were ever found anywhere on the truck that Stacey drove the day she was killed or anywhere near where the body was found. In fact, police investigators said they couldn’t rule out fingerprints found on beer cans at the scene as belonging to one of the police officers, and a friend Fennel’s  as a match. Fennell failed a polygraph test twice when asked, “Did you kill Stacey Stites?”

Very little of this information was presented at Rodney’s original trial.

And now, in a written statement, the medical examiner who examined Stacey’s body and testified at Rodney’s trial has come forward to say that Stacey was not vaginally raped. Instead, the examiner wrote, “It looks like Stites suffered from an anal rape”—one more likely committed with a “rod-like instrument, such as a police baton.”

This damning evidence seems again to point to Jimmy Fennell, who is currently in prison, having pled guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman while on duty at another job after Stites’ death.

Also importantly, the medical examiner, Roberto Bayardo, is taking back another crucial fact in the case. At Rodney’s trial, he said that sperm found in Stacey’s body had been deposited “quite recently,” meaning not long before Stacey’s death. Now, Bayardo has written, “In my professional opinion, the spermatozoa I found in…Stites’ vaginal cavity could have been deposited days before her death.”

All of this strengthens what Rodney has been saying all along—that he had consensual sex with Stacey the day before she was killed. Rodney’s lawyers were asking for an evidentiary hearing, a retrial or Reed’s immediate release in light of this evidence.

But Judge Yeakel ruled against Rodney, saying the evidence was “suspect” because of the timing of when it was brought to the court. Caitlin Adams, who visits Rodney regularly and writes the moving blog about that experience “Tales from Death Row,” wrote this about the judge’s ruling: “This ruling is clearly the standard Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) response to any and every new piece of evidence that a defendant may bring before the court. Essentially, the evidence and the facts simply do not matter when the procedural requirements of the AEDPA have not been met as deemed by the specific judge hearing the case.

“‘Timing’ is a sacrosanct element of AEDPA procedural hoopla. ‘Timing’ is more important than the truth, than justice, than a human being’s life. How could we have gotten to such a place? As citizens of this country, how can we allow this to continue? How many innocent lives are too many?”

Caitlin, along with Rodney’s mom Sandra, happened to be on a visit when Rodney got the news of his denial. Caitlin describes it on her blog, “Rodney’s first words to his mom, Sandra and I were, ‘Judge Yeakel denied me.’ Silence—the longest, most deafening silence ever at a visit. The devastation, disbelief and shock were written in only a mother’s anguish all over Sandra’s face.”

As Rodney, his family and activists struggle with this setback, we are also preparing ourselves for a new phase of the struggle. As Caitlin writes, “The next phase of demanding justice for Rodney has begun—please join me in any way you can to save Rodney’s life. For in saving one life, we can save many!”

For more information about this case, including links to important news coverage please visit our Get the Facts page for Rodney.

And please read and share Caitlin Adams regular blog about the Rodney Reed case