Lawyers file new petition to stop Texas inmate's execution

In light of new evidence, the petition asks for the sentence and conviction to be voided

Chuck Lindell
Austin-American Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Lawyers for death row inmate Rodney Reed have once again asked the state's highest criminal court to void his conviction and death sentence, arguing that "even more new evidence" has been discovered that points to Reed's innocence.

Filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, the petition lists eight new witnesses who have provided testimony that the court has not yet seen — including four people who provided sworn affidavits just days ago.

The new witnesses support Reed's claim that he was having an affair with murder victim Stacey Stites, explaining the presence of his semen in her body, or support defense claims that Stites was likely killed by her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, the petition argues.

Reed is scheduled to be executed Nov. 20. Defense lawyers say the witnesses came forward or were tracked down during an intense reinvestigation of Reed's case after the Bastrop man's execution date was set in July.

"Several other new witnesses have also come forward implicating Mr. Fennell in Ms. Stites's death and are being actively investigated by Mr. Reed's defense," the petition said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has consistently denied Reed's claims of innocence, most recently in late June when the court rejected analyses from forensic experts who said Stites had been killed hours before she could have encountered Reed before her shift was to start at a Bastrop H-E-B at 3:30 a.m. on April 23, 1996.

The four most recent witnesses to provide sworn statements on Reed's behalf included Rebecca Peoples, who said she and Stites would talk while they worked together at the H-E-B.

"A number of times she spoke about the fact that she was engaged to be married, but she said she was afraid of her fiance," Peoples said in her affidavit, dated Sunday.

"Stacey also mentioned that she was having an affair with a black man. She never told me who he was or mentioned his name," People said, adding that she had not come forward with the information previously "because I did not realize that it was important and no one ever approached me."

In addition, Richard Derleth, a former Bastrop County sheriff's deputy, said H-E-B workers told him in 1996 that they would warn Stites if Fennell arrived at the store, allowing her to hide because she feared Fennell would start a loud argument in public.

In sworn declarations also signed Sunday, Brent and Vicki Sappington said Brent's late father, William Sappington, lived directly below the Giddings apartment shared by Stites and Fennell. The man they both called Daddy recounted numerous occasions when he overheard "a man named Jimmy" yelling loudly at Stacey, often accompanied by loud thumps from above, they said.

"Daddy told us that he was very concerned about the way Jimmy treated Stacey," Vicki Sappington said. "He said it was always Jimmy's voice that he heard and that Jimmy's language was abusive, aggressive and angry towards Stacey. ... Based on the loud noises and thumping, Daddy told us he believed Jimmy was also physically abusive to Stacey."

Defense lawyers argued that the new perspectives bolstered affidavits, previously reported by not yet provided to the appeals court, claiming that Fennell told a fellow law officer that he believed Stites was having sex with a black man behind his back, that Fennell bragged about killing his fianc' because she had been sleeping with a black man, and that Fennell — while standing over Stites' body at her funeral — said she got what she deserved.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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