Questions Linger Over Central Texas Man's Death Sentence

By: Adam Racusin
Friday, April 26, 2013

Click here to watch the video broadcast of this story.

Arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a teenager. The murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites sent shockwaves through central Texas. But, all along, the man behind bars for her murder has said he didn't do it.

Rodney Reed believes new challenges to his case could support his claims of innocence.

Reed has been on death row for 15 years living out a nightmare.

KEYE TV asked him if he killed Stacey Stites. "No, not at all, not at all," said Reed.

A black man convicted by a jury his attorneys claim never got the chance to hear all the evidence -- evidence they believe could set him free. "My innocence, my family and my supporters, they are all behind me," said Reed. "I have to continue to fight."

Reed's legal team, including his lawyer Bryce Benjet who is now with the Innocence Project, has amassed a war chest full of new expert statements, and challenges to forensic evidence the state relied on to prove Reed's guilt.

The latest revelation comes from former Travis County Medical Examiner Doctor Roberto Bayardo, the man who originally examined Stites' corpse.

In a declaration document, Bayardo now questions the prosecutions use of the time of death, saying, "My estimate of the time of death, again was only an estimate and should not have been used at trial as an accurate statement of when Ms. Stites died. If the prosecuting attorneys had advised me that they intended to use my time of death as a scientifically reliable opinion of when Ms. Stites died, I would have advised them not to do so."

Bayardo also questions the survival of sperm saying, "If the prosecuting attorneys had advised me that they intended to present testimony that spermatozoa cannot remain intact in the vaginal cavity for more than 26 hours, and argue that Ms. Stites died within 24 hours of the spermatozoa being deposited, I would have advised them that neither the testimony nor the argument was medically or scientifically supported." Bayardo also goes to talk about sexual assault and whether or not it could have been consensual.

"The state framed the case as a simultaneous rape and murder," said one of Reed's attorneys, Andrew MacRae. "Dr. Bayardo's testimony absolutely refutes that, it's absolutely impossible that there was a simultaneous rape and murder by Mr. Reed."

When Reed was originally questioned, he told investigators he did not know Stites, but later said he did know Stites and had an intimate relationship with her that had to be kept a secret. When I asked the prosecutor for a comment, the Texas Attorney General's office declined an interview, saying they never comment whatsoever on habeas cases -- never.

Instead the Attorney Generals press office sent KEYE TV a stack of paperwork, the latest pleadings filed last year, essentially outlining why the prosecution believes Reed's claims and evidence are baseless.

At the top of one of the documents it simply said, "motion should be denied”.

In an interview that aired on KEYE TV in 2001, prosecutor Lisa Tanner said, "How could he have not killed her when his semen got into her body at the time of her death?"

Reed's attorneys say the doctor's new statements back what Reed has been saying all along, that he was in a consensual sexual relationship with Stites.

"Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites did have sexual intercourse, but it was at least 24 hours before Ms. Stites was killed, more importantly it was consensual," said MacRae.

"All of the evidence that is there, even at trial the whole case was circumstantial against me,” said Reed.

Beyond that, there are questions about evidence found at the murder scene.

Old beer cans Reed's attorneys say were found just feet from her body.

Reed's attorneys believe the cans suggest someone else was at the murder site the night Stacey Stites was killed.

"More recent testing has shown that a person who was a friend of the person who we think did the crime could not be excluded as contributing to that saliva mix," said MacRae.

They believe DNA could not be ruled out from being from a police officer and friend of Jimmy Fennell, the man Stites planned to marry.

"We think that the state should be taking a hard look at Mr. Fennell," said MacRae. Reed's attorney says it's evidence that never made it to Reed's trial defense team.

"I can't tell you that it didn't get misplaced in some fashion," said Tanner in a prior interview with KEYE TV. "I can't tell you that it didn't fall off the table. I can't tell you anything like that, but I can tell you I have every reason to believe I did provide that to the defense."

New testimony, old beer cans and possibly someone else at the crime scene, Rodney Reed waits on death row.

"When I wake up every morning I take a deep breath," said Reed. "You know, I feel as long as I'm breathing and I've got my support system out there, and like I said, the pictures of my grandchildren and letters and stuff like that, keeps me going. The hope that one day I will be released keeps me going," said Reed.

KEYE TV tried to get in touch with Jimmy Fennell, but in each attempt our request was denied. After the murder Fennell was questioned and ruled out by investigators at the time. Reed's attorneys are currently appealing the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more on Reed's case and the latest documents filed:

Declaration of Roberto J. Bayardo,


Declaration of LeRoy Riddick, M.D.: 

Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment: 
Documents provided by the state: