Rodney Reed is not guilty: New evidence can save his life, students must act


Juan Diaz / Hilltop Views

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Rodney Reed on Nov. 20. The petition to stop the execution now has 2,728,651 signatures online.

Since the murder of Stacey Stites, a nineteen year old grocery store employee, one man claiming to be innocent has been the prime suspect. Now, 23 years later, this man is scheduled to be executed later this month. Stites was murdered on April 23, 1996. Rodney Reed, now 51, has been on death row since 1998 for the murder and has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers from the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted, are pushing for Reed’s life to be spared after another man confessed to Stites’ murder. Court papers have been filed to push back Reed’s execution due to this alleged confession. 

Because the events have not been concretely confirmed, Reed’s execution date should, at the very least, be postponed. More evidence points to Reed being innocent than him being guilty. Because there is reasonable doubt that he committed this crime, postponing the execution date would allow time for the case to be investigated further. 

Stites was just weeks away from marrying her fiance Jimmy Fennell, a police officer, when she was found dead in a bush in 1996. At the time, Stites was having an affair with Reed. This outraged Fennell, and the motivation for his anger was largely due to racism. While in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in 2007 while on duty, Fennell allegedly confessed to killing Stites. He told another inmate that he had murdered Sties due to his racially-motivated outrage towards Reed and her affair with him. He used racial slurs when referring to the affair and made his mindset clear. 

Fennell claims that Stites had to have been killed after she left home for her 3:30 a.m. work shift, as he said he was home with her that night. Forensic experts have determined that she was killed during a two hour period before she left for work. This suggests she was killed while at home with Fennell, proving his guilt. This is one of the key arguments pointing to Reed’s innocence.

“This renders Rodney Reed’s guilt impossible and directly implicates Jimmy Fennell in this murder,” Reed’s attorney Bryce Benjet said.

What helps the prosecution’s argument is that Reed had his DNA on file after being arrested for another unrelated sexual assault case. His DNA matched the DNA found on Stites’ body. However, this should be discredited considering they were romantically involved. 

Prosecutors claim that six women have accused Reed of sexually assaulting them. Reed was tried and acquitted in one of those cases, yet not tried for any of the other cases. These are the arguments that point towards Reed’s potential guilt.  Although this information may lean towards the other side, it doesn’t prove Reed’s guilt in this particular case, nor should it be used to overshadow the evidence of his innocence. 

Because the course of events is so unclear, there really isn’t enough solid evidence for an execution. No matter your particular stance on the death penalty, most can agree that those being punished should actually be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. There is too much doubt and speculation in this case to carry through with execution so soon. To let the world contribute to this important cause, a website with a petition to free Reed has been launched.