Another day, another American true crime story. And this one has all of the (sadly) classic tropes: a seemingly innocent black man, a dirty, seemingly guilty white cop, more dirty cops, and a f*ckton of injustices. America!
The case I’m talking about is that of Rodney Reed, a 51-year-old man who was convicted of raping and strangling Stacey Stites in Texas on April 23, 1996. Twenty-three years later, celebrities like Rihanna, Kim K, Meek Mill, and Oprah are urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott to stop the execution of Reed, which is scheduled to take place on November 20th. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also urged the state to reconsider the case. There is an online petition, which already has over 2 million signatures, that advocates for Reed’s innocence, based on the fact that there are “mountains” of evidence that exonerate him and implicate another man. So, what is this evidence and why has it yet to be seen in court? LET’S GET INTO IT, SHALL WE?
— Rihanna (@rihanna) November 4, 2019
Texas is scheduled to execute #RodneyReed on 11/20.
We must act now & fight for justice.
According to the @NAACP, Black people make up 13% of the population, yet make up 42% of death row & 35% of the executions.#FreeRodneyReed and sign the petition @ https://t.co/fZWsFQ2mfU! pic.twitter.com/cPdKtcb4EE
— A N G E L A | R Y E (@angela_rye) November 4, 2019
— Questlove from @SongsThatShook Oct 13th @AMC_tv (@questlove) November 4, 2019
I’ve spent my entire morning reading about this case and yelling at my laptop in-between aggressive sips of my scalding hot tea, so I am what one could call an “expert” at this point. Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. The case is broken down in an interview between Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and Bryce Benjet, a senior attorney at the Innocence Project, and Rodney Reed’s brother and sister-in-law (highly recommend checking out if you’re looking for something to take over your entire day).
Here is a quick rundown of the basics: Stacey Stites was found murdered on the afternoon of April 23, 1996. At the time, she was engaged to Jimmy Fennell, a white man who was a cop at the time. He claimed that Stacey must have been murdered after leaving for work in the morning, around 3:00 am. DNA evidence found the semen of Rodney Reed, a black man, on Stites, which at the time was taken as evidence that he had raped her.
However, Reed has always maintained that he and Stites were engaged in a consensual affair, and his semen was from the day before. Others have verified this affair, even those who were close to Stites, but they were not called as witnesses in court (um, k).
It’s important to note that this was 23 years ago, when DNA evidence wasn’t fully understood or at the advanced level it is today, but more on that later. At first, Stites’ fiancé was the primary suspect. He failed more than one polygraph test and eventually invoked his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination so he wouldn’t have to keep answering questions. You know, typical innocent people stuff. And again, he was a cop.
Once the DNA test revealed that Rodney Reed’s semen was found on Stites, he became the main suspect. His trial was rushed and his defense was unprepared — his family couldn’t afford to keep their original attorney and were left with others who simply were not ready for such a case. Rodney Reed was found guilty and sentenced to death. He’s been on death row ever since.
Reed has maintained his innocence, and now there is evidence that could prove it. First off, the DNA that was presented to incriminate him is no longer applicable, because the science has advanced and no longer supports the original theory. According to Bryce Benjet, who is currently working on the case for The Innocence Project, the forensic pathologist, Roberto Bayardo, who did the autopsy, told the jury that this small amount of sperm could not have been there for more than 20 hours — 24 hours after they were found, which would put Rodney at the crime scene.
However, forensics now say that that number is 72. Roberto Bayardo has retracted his entire testimony and said that the evidence does, in fact, suggest that there was consensual sex between Rodney and Stacey the day before, which is exactly what Rodney has said all along.
And that’s not all. A belt was found at the crime site, which was ripped in half and assumed to be the murder weapon. Back when the crime took place, forensics were not yet able to test murder weapons for DNA. Now they can. And yet, this weapon has not been tested. BUT WHY.
Well, like we said, Jimmy Fennell was a local policeman, and IDK if you’ve heard, but cops are known to protect their own. It can’t be said officially, but if there is a way to test a murder weapon for DNA evidence, and the black man on death row is begging the courts to allow it, but they are refusing, and the other suspect is a white ex-cop…yeah, you do the math. I’m no Olivia Benson, but seems like the police force doesn’t want the weapon to be tested because they’re not certain their fellow cop’s DNA won’t be on it.
So who exactly is this Jimmy Fennell guy? SO FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK: He’s a former cop who, after this case closed, ended up in prison for kidnapping and raping a woman.
And, while he was in jail, he allegedly confessed to a fellow inmate that he killed Stacey Stites. And according to Reed’s attorneys, they have a sworn affidavit from this inmate that they would also like to enter into evidence. OH, OKAY. Did you think that was all? Nah. Apparently, Fennell was a raging racist (shocker) who had threatened to kill Stacey Stites before the murder occurred. In a short documentary film called A Plea for Justice (Yoooo, Netlfix, u up?) Alicia Slater, a friend and former coworker of Stacey Stites, claims that when she asked Stacey if she was excited to get married to Jimmy Fennell, she said “not really” and told her about an affair she was having with a black man, ANDDDDD expressed fear over what Fennell would do if he ever found out about said affair.
There are even more bonkers details about this case that clearly point to Fennell as the murderer, like a history of violence that came up in the case that landed him in jail, alleged witness intimidation by the local police force, inconsistency in Fennell’s alibi, as well as proof that his timeline doesn’t add up, cops in the original case who were later found to be dirty cops and convicted of further crimes, and more. But I simply do not have the word count for it all.
This sure seems like “reasonable doubt” to us, which should demand another trial and at the very least, take a man for whom there is even an ounce of doubt is guilty of murder off death row.
I’m waiting on the Netflix doc for this one, but in the meantime, you can sign the petition to stop Rodney Reed’s execution, which is, again, scheduled for November 20th, 2019 (that’s like, so soon) here.
Oh, also it was an all-white jury that convicted Rodney Reed, okay byeeeeeeee!
Images: CBS (1), Twitter (1), Giphy (2)