A story, but who's telling it?

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed

By: Caitlin Adams

In the recent KEYE Austin news story by reporter Adam Racusin, I was really impacted by the statements made by Lisa Tanner, the prosecutor in Rodney's case, in an interview given in 2001.  So much so, that they just kept replaying and replaying in my mind.  Here's the first part of her comments:

She says, "Rodney Reed tells a good story. How could he have not killed her when his semen got in her body at the time of her death?”

I decided to examine this statement in relation to the facts of Rodney's case and here are my findings, my "story".

So, Rodney's "story" is he and Ms. Stites were having a sexual relationship. End of story.

The prosecution's "story": Rodney, on foot, overtook the truck Ms. Stites was driving, kidnapped her, then raped and murdered her. All without leaving a single hair, fiber, fingerprint anywhere on or in the truck, no witnesses. The state's substantiation of this "story" is a Bastrop police officer's testimony at trial that Rodney was seen every night, at all hours, walking the streets of Bastrop. The explanation by the state for the complete and total lack of any evidence that Rodney was ever in the truck, wasn't addressed, except for the absence of fingerprints. The state presented a t-shirt that was found near Ms. Stites body; this t-shirt, in the state's "story", was used by Rodney to wipe his and only his fingerprints from the inside and outside of the truck.  Of course, in this "story", the state offers no explanation as to how Rodney then drove the truck from the scene to the high school parking lot where it was found without leaving any fingerprints!

So, dear reader, who is telling a "story" and who is telling the truth?

"How could he have not killed her when his semen got in her body at the time of her death?"

This is factually false.  We don't know the time of death. So everything the state presents in relation to time of death is speculation—“story" telling.  Two independent forensic experts refute Dr. Bayardo's original testimony. They also state that the very small quantity of DNA found is another indication that the sexual intercourse happened well before Ms. Stites was murdered. They also clearly state there is no evidence of a rape having occurred; the semen found was the result of a consensual sexual encounter. The state's own expert, Dr. Bayardo now says the state misconstrued his testimony and simply got it wrong. And he concurs with the findings of the independent experts.

Another "story", yes, dear reader, you are correct, by the prosecution.  What has been shown as one of the ten most influential factors in wrongful convictions is a weak case for the prosecution—very much the case in Rodney's trial.  My take on that is that it leads to another of the ten key factors—tunnel vision—only seeing what confirms what you've decided is the truth. As the prosecutor, you have DNA, a slam dunk. As the prosecutor, you decide you've got your man but you have nothing else that links your man to the crime. So, you need a "story" aka a theory of the crime that you can sell a jury.

I ask you, dear reader, who's the storyteller?