BASTROP, Texas (AP) — An attorney for a Texas death row inmate has told a judge that new evidence suggests the 19-year-old woman his client was convicted of killing may instead have been strangled by her jealous boyfriend.
Rodney Reed was convicted in the 1996 rape and murder of Stacy Stites in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Austin.
Reed’s attorney argued Monday before state District Judge J.D. Langley that new witnesses and forensic evidence support theories that Stites and Reed were having an affair and that Stites could have been killed by her fiancé, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Reed, 53, has long said he believes Fennell killed Stites because he was angry about their relationship.
Prosecutors said none of the new evidence changes the facts of the case that led to Reed’s conviction. Fennell has denied any involvement in Stites’ killing.
New witnesses included Arthur Snow Jr. who said Fennell told him during a prison-yard conversation: “I had to kill my (n-word)-loving fiancée.” Fennell had been imprisoned at the time for an unrelated kidnapping and sexual assault conviction.
New forensic evidence from multiple scientists who took the stand suggested Stites could have died during times that Fennell testified he had been with her.
“A new jury, hearing this evidence, would have a reasonable doubt in this case,” said Jane Pucher, one of Reed’s attorneys with the Innocence Project, a criminal justice advocacy group.
Langley said he hopes to make his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals before the end of the month. The state’s highest criminal court will decide whether Reed’s conviction should stand, he should go free or deserves a new trial.
It halted Reed’s scheduled execution in 2019, after his conviction was questioned by new evidence that his supporters said raised serious doubt about his guilt.