With less than a month to go before his scheduled execution date, Rodney Reed’s family, and some celebrity supporters, have been fighting ever harder for a stay of execution and a new trial.
Rodney Reed was convicted for the 1996 murder and sexual assault of Stacey Stites in Bastrop after DNA evidence linked him to Stites. However, Reed has said he is innocent, and that he and Stites had a secret affair. His defense argued Stites had been killed by her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, who was a Giddings police officer at the time and was later convicted about a decade later for the kidnapping and assault of a woman in his custody as a Georgetown police officer. Fennell and his attorney have also maintained his innocence in Stites’ murder.
Reed and his attorneys have been arguing for his innocence for years, raising various questions about the DNA evidence linking him to the murder and other untested evidence.
The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Reed’s latest appeals this summer, and in July, Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz filed a motion to set an execution date of November 20 for Reed, which was signed by visiting judge Doug Shaver.
As mid-November nears, the Reed family has seen an increase in coverage and attention from not only Bastrop County and other Texans, but also from celebrities and organizations across the country and around the world.
On October 9, Phil McGraw, host of the Dr. Phil Show, went live on Face-book, announcing to his audience that he had taken up Reed’s case after being approached by Reed’s lawyer from The Innocence Project, Bryce Benjet. Shortly after this Facebook Live video, interest in “Rodney Reed” as a Google search term spiked sharply and has remained high compared to the past year, according to Google Trends.
McGraw said he would go in with an open mind to learn about the case, and had an opportunity to interview Reed for one hour where he is being held on death row at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas.
On October 10 and 11, the Dr. Phil Show featured a two-part special looking at the case. McGraw said he strove to provide a full picture from both sides of the case; the show included interviews with prominent forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht; Fennell’s attorney, Robert Phillips; Heather Stobbs, the sole family member of Stacey Stites who believes Reed is innocent; and Rodrick and Sandra Reed, Rodney’s brother and mother.
After his research and interview with Reed, McGraw said he does not think Reed is guilty of Stites’ murder and does not believe he has had a fair trial.
“I’ve talked to people who are in favor of the death penalty, and I’ve talked to people who are completely against it,” McGraw said in his original Facebook Live video. “But I’ve never talked to anyone who was in favor of executing someone that was not guilty. I’ve never talked to anyone who was in favor of executing someone for whom there was any doubt whatsoever as to their guilt.”
A number of other celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, and Texas politicians, such as Kirk Watson and Vikki Goodwin, have spoken out in support of Reed. Last week, the European Union sent a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott asking him to grant clemency to Reed, citing its opposition to capital punishment as well as evidence not previously tested for DNA. Also last week, a group of 13 current and former Texas law enforcement officers, led by Williamson County Precinct 1 deputy constable Deke Pierce, filed an amicus brief, or a “friend of the court” document filed by an interested party not legally involved with the case, with the Supreme Court of the United States, saying Reed’s case lacks the necessary reliability for capital punishment.
Also last week, Reed’s motion for a stay of execution was denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on October 30. Currently, Reed’s family and supporters are continuing to ask Abbott and Goertz to stop Reed’s execution.
Last weekend, the Reed family and supporters held two days of rallies in support of Rodney Reed. On Saturday, they gathered at the Capitol in Austin, and on Sunday, they gathered at the Bastrop County Courthouse, singing hymns and praying for Reed with local church members.
“This nightmare has been going on in our family for the past 22 and a half years,” Rodrick Reed said at Sunday’s rally. “It’s like something we can’t wake up from. But I see know, our eyes are opening.”
Next, Reed’s supporters plan to rally again at the Capitol on Saturday, November 9 at 2 p.m. Additionally, Rodrick Reed said he would travel to Washington, D.C. to “show his face” ahead of the Supreme Court’s scheduled decision on November 15.
“I need to be there a day or two before they render that decision,” Rodrick Reed said, “to let them know that the family's here, and let them know that we're not standing way back in Texas, idly waiting by. We’re getting involved, we’re coming out here, we’re going to put it on your mind.”