Justice is served: Rodney Reed’s life no longer at risk

After spending more than 20 years in jail, Rodney Reed and his case are finally getting the attention they deserve. With new evidence supporting Reed’s innocence, his execution has been postponed. Reed was convicted of killing Stacey Stites. In April, 1996, Stites, a 19-year-old woman from Bastrop, left for work at her local grocery store in the early hours of the morning. She never showed up.

A great deal of evidence points towards Stites’ former fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as the murderer. Fennell, a Georgetown police officer at the time of the murder, had been abusive towards Stites during their relationship, according to her family. When Fennell was questioned about his whereabouts at the time of the murder, he provided law enforcement with an unreliable alibi. 

At the beginning of the investigation, Fennell was the leading suspect. This was until Reed’s DNA was found in the victim. Reed quickly became the prime suspect. It was later presented that Reed and Stites were having an affair. Fennell was quoted as saying that Stites was “f*ing a n*gger,” and he would “strangle her with a belt” after finding out about the affair.

Eleven years later, Fennell was found guilty of raping and kidnapping while on duty as a police officer in Georgetown.

Reed’s trial was unfair. The Bastrop Police were probably reluctant to investigate one of their own and eager to implicate an African American. The investigation was incompetent at best. Reed was convicted by an all-white jury, clearly not a jury of his peers. We do not know for certain if Reed is innocent or guilty, but the evidence needs to be reexamined.

Thankfully, Reed’s execution has been postponed indefinitely. The state of Texas should open an investigation into the original prosecutors of the case. If they suppressed evidence and provided false testimony, as allegations have claimed, their behavior cannot go unpunished. For those who believe in Reed’s innocence, the fight is not over. They will continue to pressure federal courts to allow DNA tests to be run on the belt that was used to murder Stites. 

Sadly, Reed’s case is not unique. Our revered American justice system is broken. There is an epidemic of white nationalism in our police departments nationwide. There have been over 800 cases of police shootings in 2019 alone — and let’s not forget that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. comprises about 4% of the world’s population, but we represent about 22 percent of the world’s incarcerated population

We, as citizens, put our trust in the justice system and these civil servants. A betrayal of this trust is unforgivable. If we can’t trust the men and women who are there to protect and serve us, who can we trust? It is time we stop lying to ourselves. The United States is not the land of the free. We never have been. Unless we start fixing our broken justice system, we are going to continue to put the lives of innocent people like Rodney Reed at risk.