Rodney Reed execution: Rodrick Reed opens up about the heartbreak of a family fighting for justice
Rodney Reed was convicted of murdering and raping a 19-year-old woman named Stacey Stites and had been sentenced to death in 1998. An African American man, he was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998. He is set to be executed on November 20.
In Bastrop, near Austin, if your last name was Reed, you couldn't get a job even at a local McDonald's. They looked at you as though it was hereditary, says Rodrick Reed, who grew up with his family of eight, six brothers and his parents in the southern state of Texas. "We couldn't even drive on vehicles without being harassed," he tells MEA World Wide, "A lot of them didn't know about the case and others didn't believe in my brother's innocence even though we were telling everybody," he recalls. They couldn't mingle anywhere, everyone looked at them funny.
Rodrick's older brother Rodney had been convicted of murdering and raping a 19-year-old woman named Stacey Stites and had been sentenced to death. He was 28-years-old then. An African American man, he was ushered away to death row by an all-white jury in 1998. He is set to be executed on November 20 - a little over four weeks from today.
But, his family along with the Innocence Project fear that an innocent man will be slain.
Rodney Reed was tied to the murder of Stites because his DNA was found inside the victim's vaginal cavity, which he has said right from the beginning was because he was having a secret affair with her. She was white and he was black and a scandal like that in their small town was not something they wanted to stir up.
But, when Stites' body was found in rural Bastrop on the roadside, her cop fiancé Jimmy Fennel, who later went away to prison for kidnap and sexual assault, was enraged. Fennel had been a suspect at first, but when the DNA was linked to Rodney, he was let off the hook. Rodney's legal team believes that Fennel was the one who murdered his fiancée.
There are some serious discrepancies in the case, says his legal team and the new evidence does point to Fennel. The belt that was used as the murder weapon was never tested. The appeals to do so have been repeatedly denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The United States Supreme Court also declined to review the court's denial of the appeal in 2018. The forensic experts who testified against Rodney that led to his death sentence have recanted and the DNA evidence found on the body is explained by their consensual relationship. Independent investigation by forensic pathologists Michael Baden, M.D., Werner Spitz, M.D., LeRoy Riddick, M.D., and Cyril Wecht, M.D. have all concluded that Rodney’s guilt is medically and scientifically impossible.
Fennel had motive to kill Stites, for cheating on him with another man. His alibi for the timeline of the murder was inconsistent as well, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer and Fennel's best friend Curtis Davis has said. He first told the investigators that he had been getting drinks with friends but then later said he was with his fiancé in their shared home. With the actual time of death determined by the new forensic investigation, his own timeline puts him with her at her apartment the time she died. He has not explained these discrepancies any further.
There are also new witnesses - one of them is an insurance salesman who Fennel took Stites to. When Stites had wondered why she needed it when she was just a teen, he had said he would kill her if she cheated on him, says Rodrick. Another witness, a police officer, who had been standing next to Fennel at the funeral had heard him say that Stites got what she deserved.
Rodney and Rodrick were very close growing up and he always looked out for his little brother. Rodney is now 51 but Rodrick doesn't know if he will make it to 52 in December. The new evidence gave them hope, for the first time in a long time. "They had nothing on my brother, just three sperm heads with attached tails proving consensual sex," Rodrick said also adding that medical examination had also determined that there were no signs of vaginal rape.
The medical examiner himself had come forth saying his testimony was misconstrued, says Rodrick. Indeed, former Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo did say that he was misconstrued by prosecutors but said that it had looked like Stites had been anally raped with something resembling a "rod-like instrument, such as a police baton."
Rodrick wants justice for both his brother and Stacey. "To lose anybody in such a horrific manner makes it much worse and I knew her," he says.
In the fight to prove his innocence, Rodrick has also had the support of Heather Campbell Stobbs, Stites' cousin. She was with the family while the case was featured in a Dr.Phil's two-part series about the case that aired on October 10 and 11, 2019. Her immediate family, however, still believe that they got the right guy in spite of the overwhelming evidence, he says sadly. He tells us that Rodney is, however, very hopeful that they will see the truth. "He is keeping his spiritual faith and he knows we are fighting hard for him. He was happy about the Dr. Phil Show. He was just tickled pink because he knew that millions of people would know about the case," he says.
If he's back, he says his voice rife with the longing to see his big brother back home, the first thing they would do is get on their knees and pray. Then, help him with his healing process. "We are planning a gathering of some sort, a celebration of homecoming. If he's home by the holidays we could celebrate Christmas together after 22 and a half years on death row. It's going to take some adjusting to get back out here into this big world, but that's a battle that we are happy to fight."
This story contains inputs from Smita Mitra