Rodney Reed: Death row prisoner backed by Rihanna is 'scared'

By Catherine Burns
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Rihanna and Rodney ReedImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Rihanna has asked people to sign a petition to stop Rodney Reed from being executed

The brother of a man who's due to be executed in Texas says the family is working "non-stop" to halt it.

Rodney Reed has spent 21 years on death row for the murder of Stacey Stites. His execution date is 20 November.

He says he's innocent and his lawyers claim that fresh evidence proves that he did not kill the 19-year-old.

Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Gigi Hadid have all spoken out supporting him.

His brother Rodrick told Radio 1 Newsbeat that he hopes this kind of celebrity backing will make a difference.

The case has got more attention since stars started tweeting about it.

Kim K has tweeted several times about Rodney Reed's case.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

But this story goes back to 1996.

What happened to Stacey Stites?

Image source, CBS Austin
Image caption,
Rodney Reed says he was having a secret relationship with Stacey Stites

The 19-year-old was due at work early in the morning of 23 April.

She never turned up to the grocery store in Bastrop, Texas.

Within a few hours, the truck she drove was found abandoned.

By that afternoon her body was discovered. She had been strangled with her own belt.

Investigators found a very small amount of sperm cells - three in total - in her vagina.

The semen came from a young black man, Rodney Reed.

Police had his DNA on file because he had been investigated - but found not guilty - over a different sexual assault case.

He claimed that he was having a secret relationship with Stacey.

She was engaged to another man, but Rodney's brother Rodrick says the affair went on for months and that the "whole neighbourhood, the whole family" knew about it.

He says: "I seen them at my mom's house, they came out to my house one time."

The evidence against Rodney Reed

The murder weapon was never tested for DNA. None of Rodney Reed's fingerprints were found on the truck Stacey was driving.

The case against him was mainly built around his semen.

He said he'd had consensual sex with Stacey the day before she was killed.

Expert witnesses told the murder trial that could not be true.

They argued that sperm could not possibly have survived in Stacey's body for so long.

Instead, they believed that she must have been raped shortly before being murdered.

This was enough for an all-white jury to convict Rodney Reed.

He was sentenced to death.

Image source, Facebook/Reed Justice Initiative

The death row years

Rodrick Reed says he has never doubted his brother's innocence.

His voice is steady as he explains: "I am 100% certain my brother didn't do this. My brother is like my best friend."

There's just a year age difference between them. Rodney is 51.

Rodrick says he's lost count of how many times he's visited him in jail, but security is tight.

"I have not touched my brother in 22 and a half years. Neither have our parents, it's no contact visits," he explains.

Away from prison, it's been an ongoing legal battle.

He says: "I've been fighting this for all those years, you know?

"You wouldn't imagine how hard this is. This is something that, you know, you really can't put into words."

Fresh evidence

A date has been set for Rodney Reed's death. He is due to be executed on 20 November.

Rodrick Reed says this is a "nightmare that you can't wake up from".

He says his brother is "standing on the truth and has faith".

But at the same time, he says: "He's scared. Scared as hell. Because this date is real.

"The idea that they would even entertain taking his life when he has done nothing wrong - nothing but have a consensual relationship with a white girl."

Image source, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Rodney Reed's lawyers are fighting to change this and have submitted new evidence.

The evidence focuses partly on the claims by forensic witnesses in the original trial that sperm could not survive for more than a day after sex.

One of those medical experts, Dr Roberto Bayardo, has put out a sworn statement explaining that he is now aware that sperm can stay intact for days after death.

And so, he says, there is no evidence that Stacey Stites and Rodney Reed had anything other than consensual sex.

The Innocence Project is representing Rodney and says this all means that the main evidence linking Rodney Reed to Stacey Stite's death was totally wrong.

Prison cell confession?

Stacey was engaged - due to marry a white former policeman called Jimmy Fennell.

But now witnesses have come forward with statements about the couple's relationship.

One woman talks about him saying that if his girlfriend ever cheated on him, he would strangle her.

An insurance salesperson remembers Jimmy Fennell threatening to kill Stacey Stites if he ever caught her "messing around" on him.

Another statement comes from a former policeman.

He says he remembers Jimmy Fennell looking at Stacey Stite's body at her funeral and saying something about her getting what she deserved.

Jimmy Fennell went on to serve years in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting another woman. He was released in 2018.

One of the new witnesses is a man who was in jail with him.

Arthur Snow was the leader of a white supremacist prison gang.

He claims that Jimmy Fennell told him that his fiancée had been sleeping with a black man behind his back.

In a sworn statement he says: "Toward the end of the conversation, Jimmy said confidently, 'I had to kill my n-word-loving fiancée'."

Image source, CBS Austin

What does Jimmy Fennell say?

His lawyer, Bob Phillips, says there is "absolutely not a scintilla of merit" in this claim.

He told CBS Austin that Arthur Snow is a "career criminal" who is "trying to save his own scalp".

He also calls the other new witnesses "laughable" and questions why they waited so long to come forward.

He maintains that it's "absolutely untrue" that Stacey Stites was having an affair with Rodney Reed.

He asks: "Where are the love notes? Where are the photographs?

"Where is one piece of corroborating evidence other than people coming out of the woodwork 20 years after the fact?"

Celebrity support

Kim Kardashian West, who wants to be a lawyer, has tweeted several times about this case.

Many other celebrities have spoken out too.

Rihanna encouraged her followers to sign a petition.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Gigi Hadid signed it.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Meek Mill linked to more information on the case.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J also got involved.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Rodrick Reed says he's "praying that it makes a difference" by drawing attention to the case.

He explains: "The more celebrity reports that we get, the more the world is looking at this.

"And we're trying to get the world to look at my brother's case, so these people here in Bastrop will be scared to take his life."

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