A campaign to release Rodney Reed, a Texas death row inmate scheduled for execution later this month, has gained traction following testimony that raises significant questions about his guilt.
Reed is on death row in the state of Texas for rape and murder. He has long maintained his innocence. In recent weeks, celebrities like Rihanna, Meek Mill, and Kim Kardashian have campaigned for his release following an affidavit signed by another prison inmate claiming that someone else had admitted to the murder.
Reed was accused of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old woman who was found strangled and raped in a wooded area in Bastrop, Texas. Initially, police suspected Stites’ fiancé, a former police officer named Jimmy Fennell, of killing Stites. These suspicious were heightened when Fennell failed two lie detector tests administered by police, but police failed to match Fennell’s DNA to evidence found on Stites’ body. Reed then became the primary suspect after police determined that his DNA matched evidence found on Stites’ body. At trial, Reed claimed that he and Stites had had a sexual relationship, thus explaining why his DNA was found on her body, but a jury still found him guilty of her murder and sentenced him to death.
Over the years, many journalists and true crime devotees have questioned the official police narrative of Stites’ death, but skepticism about Reed’s guilt peaked last month when a man named Arthur Snow signed an affidavit alleging that in 2010, while Fennell was in prison for rape, he confessed to Stites’ murder. According to Snow, Fennell sought protection with the Aryan Brotherhood while he was incarcerated, and confessed to Snow, a Brotherhood member, as a way to gain his trust. “Jimmy said his fiancé had been sleeping around with a black man behind his back… Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my n****r- loving fiancé,'” Snow wrote in his affidavit. Snow later realized that Reed was serving time for Stites’ murder after seeing a story about him in the newspaper.
Snow is just one of a number of witnesses who have emerged claiming to have information exonerating Reed. Last week, Stites’ cousin gave an interview to Fox 7 Austin claiming she too believed that Fennell, not Reed, had killed Stites. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind [that Fennell is guilty],” Stites’ cousin Heather Stobbs said, adding that she believes Reed has been framed. An insurance salesperson has also come forward claiming that Fennell threatened to kill Stites while he was applying for life insurance. In his affidavit, the salesperson said that he did not come forward earlier because he thought Reed would be exonerated.
On October 30th, in light of Snow’s affidavit, Reed’s lawyers filed a petition for clemency with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. In response, Fennell’s lawyers have dismissed the affidavit, arguing that Snow’s criminal past negates his credibility, and that his claims are not in the “world of reality.”
Over the past few weeks, celebrities have been rallying for Reed’s release, with Kim Kardashian West tweeting to Gov. Greg Abbott that “substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest. I URGE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING.” A #FreeRodneyReed petition has also garnered more than 122,000 signatures as of this writing.
Reed is scheduled to be executed on November 20th.