News and Commentary

Celebrities Push To Save Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed. But What Does The Evidence Say?
Kim Kardashian is seen out and about in Manhattan on November 7, 2019 in New York City.
Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images

The case surrounding death row inmate Rodney Reed has gained national attention since celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna have come to the convict’s defense, requesting the governor of Texas to stay Reed’s execution.

Reed was convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacy Stites due in large part to overwhelming DNA evidence and is set to be executed by the state in less than two weeks, on November 20.

However, Reed, a black man who believes he is a victim of racial bias, claims he did not murder Stites, but was having a secret consensual sexual affair with the teen. When her fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a white police officer, found out, he killed Stites, Reed’s defense attorneys have theorized.

When Reed was convicted, it was determined Stites was strangled to death by her own belt while on her way to a work at a HEB grocery story in Bastrop, Texas, in April 1996. Evidence also determined that Stites, who was also vaginally raped, was anally raped while being strangled to death. DNA from semen found in the teen’s vagina and anus matched that of Reed’s.

The effort to stay Reed’s execution is primarily due to Reed advocates and his legal team claiming “a proper examination of forensic evidence shows that Stites was killed hours before she and Reed could have crossed paths,” the Statesman reported in July.

But with all the celebrity-backed hype and social media fog surrounding the case, what are the facts? Here are some key details that you need to know.

  • Reed denied knowing Ms. Stites to authorities before claiming he was having a secret affair with her.

“I didn’t know her, never met her, never talked to her, had no idea who she is,” Reed told Sergeant David Board of Stites, court documents show. “The only thing I know was what I saw on TV.”

Reed’s defense team suggested during the trial that Reed first denied he knew Stites because of racial prejudice, suggesting it was good sense for a black man to deny any connection to a dead white woman.

But according to the prosecution’s opening statement, Reed denied knowing Stites to police “after the defendant knew he had been linked to semen.”

  • Reed’s DNA was first matched up against the semen found in Stites body after an intellectually disabled woman named Caroline Rivas admitted to her case worker that Reed, whom she had been dating, anally raped her.

“Reed began dating Caroline Rivas, an intellectually disabled woman,” court documents revealed. “Rivas’s caseworker noticed bruises on Rivas’s body and, when asked about them, Rivas admitted that Reed would hurt her if she would not have sex with him.”

“Later, Rivas’s caseworker noticed that Rivas was walking oddly and sat down gingerly,” the response to the Supreme Court cert. petition said. “Rivas admitted that Reed had, the prior evening, hit her, called her vulgar names, and anally raped her.  The samples from Rivas’s rape kit provided the link to Stites’s murder.”

  • Reed has been connected to the rapes of five other females, including a 12-year-old girl.

According to court documents, the victim, only identified publicly as A.W., says she was blindfolded, gagged, beaten, and orally, vaginally, and anally raped while she was home alone. “The foreign DNA from A.W.’s rape kit was compared to Reed; Reed was not excluded and only one in 5.5 billion people would have the same foreign DNA profile from A.W.’s rape kit,” the court doc outlined.

As noted by Breitbart News’ Brandon Darby, Reed has not been exonerated from the rape of the 12-year-old and a number of other women, but such cases were likely not pursued because Reed was served with the death penalty.

“When someone gets a death penalty, the other cases are often not taken to court because of resources and not wanting to put other victims through trials once ultimate punishment already given. All of those cases are still there and have been the entire time,” Darby explained.

Lucy Eipper, whom Reed has two children with, claimed he physically abused her, even when she was pregnant. He also raped her “all the time,” including one time in front of their kids, according to Eipper.

There was also Vivian Harbottle, whom Reed was said to have raped six months prior to the murder of Stites. “When she pleaded for her life for the sake of her children, Reed laughed at her,” court documents reveal. “The foreign DNA from Harbottle’s rape kit was compared to Reed; he could not be excluded, and only one person in 5.5 billion would be expected to have the same foreign DNA profile.”

Reed also allegedly attempted to rape 19-year-old Linda Schlueter after he convinced her to give him a ride home. “Reed led her to a remote area and then attacked her,” documents outline. “After a prolonged struggle, Schlueter asked Reed what he wanted and Reed responded, ‘I want a blow job.’ When Schlueter told Reed that ‘you will have to kill me before you get anything,’ Reed stated ‘I guess I’ll have to kill you then.’ Before Schlueter could be raped, a car drove by and Reed fled.”

Reed was acquitted of the rape of 19-year-old Connie York. Though he at first denied knowing York, he later claimed, “Yeah, I had sex with her; she wanted it.”

  • In 2015, a supplemental trial court record showed that it was confirmed that Reed’s DNA was found inside Stites’ rectum, despite Reed’s attempts to claim otherwise, and her vagina, underwear, her breasts, and clothing, which was more than the jury knew at the time.

“Indeed, [the jury] knew that Reed’s genetic profile was consistent with profiles developed from Stites’s panties and the vaginal, rectal, and breast swabs taken from her body,” the record stated. “Reed’s DNA is now consistent with that found on Stites’s pants and her back brace, which also include Stites’s genetic profile; namely, there is a mixture of Stites’s DNA and male DNA on Stites’s pants and back brace from which Reed cannot be excluded.”

“Essentially, Reed is now found on more pieces of evidence related to Stites’s murder than ever before,” it stated.

  • Fennell, Stites’ fiancé at the time of her murder, was released from prison in 2018 after serving ten years behind bars for his role in the kidnapping and alleged rape of a person in his custody as a police officer in 2007.

Following Fennell’s release, Stites’ family, including sister Debra Oliver, defended Fennell from accusations concerning Stites.

“I guess in a way, part of him died that day too, you know? His life has never been the same,” Oliver told Kxan News.

“After she was found, he was heartbroken and I’m the one who really sat with him a lot and held his hand,” she added. “He is not the murderer in this case, he never was.”

“Stacy didn’t know Rodney, not at any time were they having an affair,” the sister continued.

“The difference between Jimmy and Rodney, is Jimmy took responsibility for the bad decision he made and he served his time and he’s paid his commitment to society,” she added. “I’d love for people to leave him alone and let him move on with his life.”

A cousin of Stites, who’s been estranged from the family, views Fennell as the killer, noting that Reed’s DNA could have ended up in Stites’ vagina and anus “any other way.”

  • In October, Arthur Snow, an inmate and one of leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood gang at the prison Fennell was serving time at, signed an affidavit claiming Fennell bragged to him about killing Stites after he found out about an apparent affair with Reed.

Snow admitted that Fennell sought him out for protection against other racially-aligned gangs in the prison, and agreed to give up a portion of his commissary for such protection. The two “were never really friends,” but Fennell once approached Snow in 2010 and bragged that he had to “kill” his “n*****-loving fiancé.”

The affidavit has been used by the Innocence Project to advocate for Reed.

  • According to reporting from The New York Times, a former friend of the couple, Charles W. Fletcher, said “Fennell had complained that Ms. Stites was cheating on him.” But  the alleged affair between Reed and Stites was rejected by the jury and 16 other courts.

“The question then is why was Reed’s semen found in Stites’s physically- and sexually-abused body? Reed unconvincingly claims a clandestine, consensual relationship, but that was rejected by the jury and every court to have considered it-without dissent (two state district-court judges, nine state appellate judges, one federal magistrate judge, one federal district-court judge, and three federal appellate judges),” the trial court record said.

  • The Innocence Project has pushed Jim Clampit, a former sheriff’s deputy, claiming Fennell said, “You got what you deserved,” while at Stites’ funeral.

Robert M. Phillips, Fennell’s lawyer, said “the Innocence Project was merely recycling claims that were made at trial,” The New York Times reported. “It was inconceivable, he said, that the people now coming forward would have stayed silent for so long if their accounts were true.”

H/t Brandon Darby