By Airielle Lowe
An online petition to stop the Nov. 20 execution of Rodney Reed now has over two million signatures, and a majority of society has reached the conclusion that Rodney Reed is innocent, and that his case is yet another example of racial bias and injustice in the American prison system.
Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, which occured in 1996. Marks on Stites’ neck indicated that she had been strangled with a leather belt left at the scene of the crime, and suspicion she had been raped came from the fact that she was found partially clothed. The sperm collected from inside of the victim matched that of 29-year-old Rodney Reed, creating the basis of the prosecution’s argument despite there seemingly being no other evidence linking Reed to the murder.
Court records state that before Reed knew police had found this seemingly incriminating evidence, when asked if he knew Stacey Stites before her death he stated, “I didn’t know her, never met her, never talked to her, had no idea who she is. The only thing I know was what I saw on TV.” After later admitting that he had been in an affair with her, Reed stated in an interview with NBC news that, “It was the worst mistake I ever could have made. I denied everything. I did not want to be incriminated, implicated or anything in relation to her death.”
However, this is where the disparities begin and the controversy lies. Jimmy Fennell—Stites’ fiancé and a white, former Georgetown police officer—never had his apartment searched for evidence following the murder, but Reed’s apartment was. Those same court records also indicated that “the evidence is just as consisitent with consensual sex as it is with sexual assault.”
According to an article released by CBS News, despite the fact that the prosecution intially argued that Stites had been raped just before the murder (claiming sperm could not survive for 24 hours), Reed’s defense argued that the state had relied on innacurate science in this claim. Citing forensic experts who stated sperm could survive up to 72 hours in the body, the defense was able to support Reed’s testimony that he had sex with Stites two days before her murder.
Both CBS and an article by The Intercept also recall the fact that forensic evidence indicated that Stites was killed before midnight, instead of the initially believed time of around 3am—a point in time where she would have been alone with Fennell.
A 2016 CNN interview with Fennell’s friend and fellow investigator, Curtis Davis, provided a different story from Fennell’s own intial testimony regarding his whereabouts on the night of his fiancée’s murder.
But perhaps the most shocking news in all of this, is the fact that Fennell allegedly confessed to killing Stites during a 2010 conversation in jail, according to a former inmate who later became a witness in the case. Fennell at the time was serving a 10 year sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman he had taken into custody in 2007. The released sworn affidavit depicts Arthur J. Snow, the inmate in question, recalling in a written statement that in a conversation with Fennell, he claimed “I had to kill my n***er loving fiancée.” Snow also stated that he believed Fennell felt safe in confiding this information because he was apart of the “Aryan Brotherhood,” a white supremacy group.
With the discovery and release of what seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence such as the statements and forensic evidence stated earlier (among other evidence that has come to light following the continuation of the case), the story of Rodney Reed has gained widespread attention from numerous celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, and Gigi Hadid.
But is Reed completely innocent? Though he may not deserve capital punishment for murder, does he deserve to remain in jail for other crimes?
The support for Reed is profound and unwavering because his case is so similar to many other black men. Court records indicate that Reed has a history of sexual abuse regarding women—the first allegedly being a 19-year-old named Connie York who claimed to have been raped in 1987 by Reed. These same records also state that when Reed was interviewed, he intially admitted to knowing York though denied raping her, before later admitting he had sex with her and insinuated that it was consensual. Reed was also accused of the rape of a 12-year-old only identified as A.W., where his DNA was found at the scene of the crime. He has also been accused of sexual assault by former lovers Lucy Eipper and Caroline Rivas. The sample from Rivas’s rape kit was the one that provided the link to the murder of Stacey Stites’.
The story of Rodney Reed is one that’s all too familiar for the African American community;at first glance, you have yet another black man that may have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and may even die for it. Despite evidence pointing to Stacey Stites’ fiancé, and even a witness testimony from an inmate claiming Fennell admitted to the murder, Reed still may die for a murder he didn’t commit in just a few days. However, one central question still remains: Is Reed truly innocent?
Though Reed may not have killed Stacey, the point still stands that several women have accused him of rape, and that Reed himself has admitted to either knowing, or having previous sexual encounters with some of those women. Rodney Reed can very well be a man who does not deserve the lethal injection he’s scheduled to receive on Nov. 20, putting him to rest forever. It is safe to say that this is not a case in which, even if he is acquitted, will ever truly be put to rest for as long as he remains accused of being a serial rapist.