The Rodney Reed case reminds us of past racial injustices and the many ways in which the Jim Crow legacy remains very much alive today. This form of injustices have become even more relevant than in the days of the Reconstruction period.1 The Jim Crow caste system was originally created to prevent intimate relationships between white women and black men, while condoning sexual abuse of black women by white men.2 In addition, a main objective for separating blacks from whites was to prevent the formation of class consciousness, by reinforcing white racial superiority claims, by socializing white men through segregated social practices that constructed black men as inferior. This process removed opportunities for black men to build viable relationships across racial lines.3
The State of Texas convicted Rodney Reed for the murder of nineteen year-old Stacey Stites. 4 When Stacey failed to appear for her 3:30 am shift at the HEB located in Bastrop, on April 23, 1996, her co-workers became very concerned and contacted the Police Department which in turn immediately initiated a missing person search. The police reported the body was found in the bushes lying face up near Bluebonnet Drive, a country gravel road behind Bastrop High School. As the search for Ms. Stites intensified the next day, April 24th, she was discovered shortly before 3:00 pm by Kenneth Osborn, a real estate appraiser.5
On April 4th 1997, Rodney Reed faced multiple charges for the death of Stacey Stites.6 One count for aggravated sexual assault and the other count charged him with murder in the course of kidnapping. These capital murder charges were handed down after Reed was presented with DNA evidence that proved that he had sexual intercourse with 19-year-old Stacey Stites after previously stating that he did not have any knowledge of who Stites was. He later explained he had denied knowing her because he felt it would be best for him not to acknowledge his affair with a now “dead white woman”.7 Reed also knew Stites was seeing a white cop. Faced with an irrefutable DNA match, Reed finally admitted to authorities about having a consensual relationship with Stites.8 However, because Reed is a black man and Stacey Stites is a white woman, Reed knew that his relationship with Stites had to be kept on the ‘down-low’.9 Reed also stated that “races ain’t s’posed to mix in small-town Texas, you see”.10
Reed’s statement refers to an old fundamental aspect of the Jim Crow society that socially and legally prohibited interracial relationships and mixed marriages.11 These were anti-miscegenation laws that dated back to the colonial era aimed at racial purity.12 The Rodney Reed case also mirrors a case from the past- an old Supreme Court Case, Pace v. Alabama 1883.13 In this case, a black man by the name of John Pace and a white woman, Mary Cox, both resided in Alabama and were arrested in 1881 for their sexual relationship in violation of Alabama’s miscegenation statute (Ala. code 4189).14 Due to the nature of Pace and Cox’s interracial relationship, they were both criminalized and severely punished.15 They were charged with living together “in the state of adultery and fornication”, incarcerated and sentenced to a two year prison term because at the time this action was considered to be a felony.16 While these types of laws are no longer on the books, the attitudes that condemn interracial relationships have remained and continue to impact Reed’s case today.
According to the Texas Department of Public safety (DPS), official crime investigators Karen Blakely, Wilson Young, and Terry Sandifer were responsible for handling the processing of Stites’ body, the motor vehicle, and the crime scene where Stites body was discovered, due to signs the victim had been possibly raped.17 According to local law enforcement officials, Stites’ body appeared to be have been sodomized and strangled. Stites body was partially clothed and was found wearing only a black bra, underwear, undone blue jeans, a pair of socks, and a single tennis shoe, and a name tag was found hanging in the crook of her knee.18 A white T-shirt, a piece of a brown woven belt with a missing buckle, and two beer cans were also found nearby. 19 The Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted a forensics test and took vaginal and breast swabs from Stites body.20 Blakely one the DPS officials handling the processing of Stites body did not collect any samples from Stites rectum because rigor mortis had already set in.21 The results from the on-site test signaled the presence of semen.22 At approximately 11:00 pm on the night of the 24th, the microscopic analysis showed the presence of sperm intact, which indicted recent sexual activity.23 With the discovery of intact sperm- published scientific articles sperm established that sperm remains active for no longer than twenty-six hours.24 Later, the results of the belt fragments that were recovered at the scene were tested and determined that the belt was torn, not cut, and was identified as belonging to Stites.25 A detailed search was also conducted on the motor vehicle (pickup-truck) Stites was operating prior to her her death, which yielded a missing shoe and an earring, and the remnants of a smashed, plastic drinking glass.26 In addition, the seat-belt on the driver’s-side was still engaged and the seat was angled in a way that only a person that is approximately 6’2″ would need to utilize the rear-view mirror. 27 The Texas Department of Safety (DPS) crime scene investigation never conducted any DNA tests on any of the items found located around Fennell’s pick-up truck, neither did they find any fingernails, or blood or semen identifying the perpetrator.28
Five days after Stites’ body was found, a Bastrop County local person found items that were believed to be connected to Stites murder.29 According to the report, written by Officer Scroggins, the report stated that a local Bastrop citizen reported that a shirt, two condoms, and part of a knife handle were found.30 At Reed’s trial, Ranger Wardlow testified that he had no knowledge about who brought the condoms in.31 However, Wardlow did testify that he saw condoms shortly after they were brought in the courtroom and confirmed that the condoms “appeared to be old and cracked and worn out”. The items found were never tested for DNA before the trial.32
The following day, an autopsy was conducted on Stites body by Dr. Roberto Bayardo the Travis County Medical Examiner. 33 Dr. Bayardo noticed a large mark across the victim’s neck that was identical to the pattern of the belt Stites was wearing.34 There were also bruises on Stite’s arm that were consistent with knuckles from a fist, as well as bruises on her head that were consistent with the marks on her left shoulder and abdomen that matched an over-the-shoulder seat belt.35 Dr. Bayardo concluded based on the physical state of changes in the body that the estimated time of death was on April 23 around 3:00 am, within a window of four hours. 36 Prior to her murder, Stites had been engaged to be married to Jimmy Fennell who at the time was a Giddings’ police officer. Stites often drove Fennell’s red-pick-up truck that was found at the crime scene.37
Dr. Bayardo conducted a more thorough forensic exams and collected vaginal, oral, and rectal swabs.38 Dr. Bayardo, observed that samples contained sperm that was still intact in the vaginal swab, which he stated had to be a quite recent semen deposit.39 There were also anal injuries discovered, including dilation and lacerations, which were very consistent with constant penile penetration that would have taken place at or near the time of Stites’ death.40 Dr. Bayardo’s microscope analysis concluded the rectal-swab as well as the chemical testing were negative for intact semen. 41 He also noted that sperm breaks down quicker in the rectal cavity than in the vagina, supporting that the fragmented sperm also revealed recent sexual anal activity.42 Thereafter, Dr. Bayardo’s DNA testing results on the vaginal, rectal, and breast swabs revealed that the foreign DNA came from one single source.43DPS officials were also able to “map” Stite’s panties, and the results showed little movement after seminal deposit. This also confirmed the timing of the seminal deposit and the murder.44
For months, Jimmy Fennell was a primary suspect in the murder of Stacey Stites even though the DNA results cleared him from the recent sexual activity.45 However, on two separate occasions, Jimmy Fennell failed polygraph tests in regards to questions asking whether he ever strangled, hit or struck Ms. Stites, results came back as deceptive.46 Jimmy Fennell’s abusive behavior surfaced from other past relationships, including from his simultaneous affair with Pamela Duncan while engaged to Stites.47 According to Ms. Duncan, prior to their dating, she used to get her hair done by a black woman hairdresser.48 After they started dating, Duncan would not allow her to go to that hairdresser arguing that since the salon was across the tracks that “white women don’t go there”.49 Fennell was very aggressive towards Duncan, and would be very shame her in public and would embarrass her. Jimmy Fennell also displayed in his relationship with Duncan how he was “extremely racist towards blacks.”50 When Duncan hired a black woman to work in her store, Fennell told Duncan that he viewed blacks- using the (N-word)- as bad people that were all on drugs, and that they were crooks.51 Racist attitudes towards African Americans seemed ubiquitous in the county.
During the BCSO police inquiry, Fennell repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.52 At Reed’s trial, the State Texas Ranger Rocky Wardlow affirmed it was “logistically impossible” for Fennell to be guilty of murdering Ms. Stites because he could not have possibly left his truck in Bastrop, Texas around 5:00 am and commuted 30 miles back to the apartment that Stites, Fennell and her mother, Carol, all lived in together in Giddings, Texas by 6:45 am where Stites’ mother contacted him.53 However, in a sworn affidavit statement from Ms. Martha E. Barnett on March 23, 2006, stated that on April 23, 1996 between the hours of 5:00 am and 5:30 am while in route to her place of employment she spotted Stacey Stites and a man she recognized as Jimmy Fennell standing in front of a red pick-up truck on the sidewalk, while she pulled into the parking lot of Old Frontier to purchase a soda.54 Ms. Barnett after completing her purchase got into her vehicle and noticed a 4 door vehicle leaving the parking lot whom she believed was delivering newspapers.55 Ms. Barnett goes on to state that the only reason she recognized Ms. Stites was due to the fact that she frequently goes to through her line at HEB to checkout.56 In addition, Ms. Barnett was previously employed at a restaurant directly in front of HEB. Ms. Barnett finally confirmed after Jimmy Fennell’s picture appeared in the Giddings Times and on the News that it was indeed Jimmy Fennell whom she had seen early on the morning of April 23, 1996.57
The prosecuting attorney at the time, Lisa Tanner, was subpoenaed as a witness in an evidentiary hearing scheduled for March 23, and 24, 2006 in regards to the sworn affidavit statement made by Ms. Barnett. In the affidavit Lisa Tanner stated that she did not have any knowledge of the statement made by Ms. Barnett, and stated that it would not be necessary for her to establish an essential claim on behalf the State for the Petitioner.58 Ms. Tanner would later send a notice under Rule 3.08(a)(5) that Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that she was no longer qualified to represent the State in wake of her having hidden Ms. Martha Barnett’s statement from the defense.59 The State intentionally ignored the possibility that Fennell could have obtained transportation back to Giddings, Texas from another accomplice and never revealed whether this possibility had been investigated by the Bastrop Sheriff’s Department.60 However, documents in the BCSO’s investigation do reveal that BCSO Deputy Curtis Davis, a close friend of Jimmy Fennell, had every opportunity to aid Fennell with a ride in the early hours on April 23, 1996.61 Officer Curtis Davis’ time-sheet and time off request forms were compiled along with a stack of officer’s notes from the investigation. Officer Davis has April 22, 1996 circled, and noted “worked night shift 1 hour took 11 hours off”.62 Secondly, the next time Officer Curtis Davis is accounted for is when he arrived with Fennell to drop off the key to his truck. Officer Davis’ time-sheet also indicated that the excuse Officer Davis used to leave work on the night of his shift that Stites was murdered was a “broken tooth”.63 Officer Davis was then absent for shifts scheduled on April 23, 26, and 27 for personal death- undoubtedly to aid his close friend Jimmy Fennell.64 There is no documented information of an attempt to interview Officer Curtis Davis or establish whether Officer Davis could have possibly provided transportation to Fennell on the morning of April 23, 1996.65 The BCSO records also show in an investigation that Officer David Hall was the man who often drove Jimmy Fennell home.66 Officer Hall and Jimmy Fennell both worked as Giddings Police Officers and shared a patrol car, and in addition, they lived in the same apartment complex.67 Officer Hall also is 6’1′ and fits the motive of a person that is 6’2′ to adjust the seat of the motor vehicle that Stites was operating.68 As a result the case went cold for one year. The State was did not complete thorough investigations of Officer Fennell and Officer Hall, leaving many to question the State’s claim that it is logistically not possible for Jimmy Fennell to have committed this murder.69
Reed informed Ms. Stites that while walking one night on the north end of Bastrop to visit a family member, he had been threatened by Jimmy Fennell.70 A Bastrop Patrol Unit had pulled up alongside where Reed was walking.71 The man in the passenger seat came out and Reed immediately recognized him as Jimmy Fennell. The other officer operating the patrol vehicle was assumed to be Officer Curtis Davis, who was Fennell’s best friend.72 Officer Fennell stated that he knew that he was messing around with his girl and that Reed “was going to pay”.73 When Reed next saw Stites one week later, he informed her that Fennell threatened him about their relationship. Stites then replied that if Jimmy Fennell caught them, he would kill her.74
Lisa Tanner, the prosecuting attorney at the time for the Rodney Reed’s trial, received DNA evidence from multiple presumed suspects who either confessed or bragged about murdering Stites.75 The results eventually eliminated everyone who was considered to be a suspect with the exception of Reed.76 The BCSO inquired with DPS to confirm whether they had Reed’s DNA on file, which they did.77
Nevertheless, even with some of the evidence pointing at Jimmy Fennell, Lisa Tanner and the State prosecution team pressed forward with the case against Reed.78 From the very beginning, the state’s theory of Stacey Stites’ murder was very problematic.79 Based on the facts, the state came up with their own theory about Stites’s death that was solely hinged on DNA assumed as the result from her encounter with a stranger: Stites left her residence at approximately 3 am, in route to Bastrop.80 The timeline presented by the state rested on the theory given by Jimmy Fennell.81 Fennell said he was not awake when Stites would have left around 3 am to head in to work.82 Fennell previously stated that he and Stites were home alone that evening. Yet law enforcement never searched the apartment in Giddings, Texas, even though it was the last place Stites was seen alive.83
The State since has failed to put forth any evidence to rebut Mr. Reed’s expert testimony for additional items to be tested that contain biological evidence that is potentially exculpatory.84 Neither did the State contest the chain of custody for the items in the possession of the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety Crime Lab. Instead the State presented three witnesses to testify solely in regards to the chain of custody of several items that are in the possession to the Bastrop County Clerk’s office.85 The State’s three witnesses presented were: Gerald Clough, an investigator for the Attorney General’s Office; Etta Wiley, a criminal deputy for the Bastrop County Clerk’s Office; and Lisa Tanner, an assistant attorney general and the prosecutor of the Rodney Reed case.86The items located at the office of the Bastrop County Clerk, Etta Wiley, Criminal Deputy Clerk, testified that her job was to ensure the integrity of the evidence for Mr. Reed’s case was kept under lock and key the entire time.87 Ms. Wiley further confirmed that she had no cause to believe any of the evidence in the Bastrop County had been altered or tampered with, replaced or substituted.88
Ms. Lisa Tanner, the main prosecutor in the Rodney Reed case, testified that all of the items had been mishandled at the trial without proper gloves.89 In addition, Mr. Clough, an investigator for the Attorney General’s Office, believed the clerk’s office improperly stored the evidence.90 However, neither Ms. Lisa Tanner nor Gerald Clough were ever qualified to rebut the expert witness Ms. Lankford’s expert testimony that such treatment did not preclude effective DNA testing or destroying potential exculpatory DNA information.91 The DNA was the ‘Cinderella’s slipper’ the prosecutor used as central argument to convict Reed at the trial.92 The case of Rodney reed has left so many questions and still remains under review by the State of Texas Judiciary after multiple appeals won by Attorneys for Project Innocence. The US Supreme Court recently refused to hear new evidence as some worry it may signal that the State of Texas still has the upper hand and it remains unclear when new evidence that might overturn Reed’s conviction will be evaluated. Over the past decade the obvious miscarriages of justice have brought together a very large coalition of support for Rodney Reed, it includes Project Innocence, many celebrities, and some legal minds. Multiple articles written and a documentary was made about the case.
Great men and women, -such as Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Harry Blake, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Ambassador Andrew J. Young, Dr. C.O Simpkins, Dr. E. Edward Jones, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, – and many others led the Civil Rights movement. They made it their personal goal to help African Americans navigate through the inhumane cruelty of the discriminatory system in the United States inflicted upon African Americans communities. Lynching African American men targeted them as a scapegoats for crimes of which they were accused such as having assaulted white women, in order to promote fear among African American Communities. Even once many Jim Crow Laws were overturned, the practice of pinning crimes on African American men has continued. Innocent men, like Rodney Reed, are legally castrated through the manipulation of the law in a criminal justice system that is neither fair and nor color blind.
Jim Crow Laws
State of Texas
My name is Christopher McClinton.I am a International and Global Studies major. I am very passionate about international relations with political, social and economic issues.Focusing on diplomacy, human rights and international law. I believe democracy is necessary for all people, regardless of their culture. Only through constructive discourse between people of all cultures will we find resolutions to our common problems, foremost among them being transparency in national elections and transparency from national leaders. One of my main goals at this point in my career path is to interact with people from as many diverse backgrounds as feasible. Such experiences, whether through employment opportunities, interacting with fellow students or volunteering in relevant projects worldwide, will be of tremendous value for me.Author Portfolio Page