Defense: New evidence points to victim’s fiance in Reed case


Rodney Reed's parents
By: Jillian Beck
The Austin-American Statesman

Lawyers for a man convicted and sentenced to death for a 1996 Bastrop County murder filed a motion in district court this month saying a previously undisclosed police investigation points to the victim’s fiance as the perpetrator.

Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Less than two weeks before he was scheduled to be put to death this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution based on a new appeal Reed’s attorneys filed in February.

Reed, his attorneys and many supporters have long claimed that he and Stites were engaged in a consensual secret affair, which would explain the presence of his DNA in her body, rather than prosecutors’ assertions that Stites was raped shortly before being strangled. The affair, defense lawyers say, gave Stites’ fiance Jimmy Fennell motive to kill her.

In the new motion for discovery filed Oct. 6, defense attorneys seek to interview witnesses and obtain documents related to a previously undisclosed investigation into Fennell’s connection to the murder by a Giddings police officer.

In January 2015, Reed’s defense attorneys received a recording of a Bastrop district attorney investigator and Giddings police detective interviewing the widow of a murdered Giddings police officer, according to the motion. In the January interview, the woman tells investigators her late husband, Gary Joe Bryant, told her he was investigating Fennell and that Bryant believed Fennell killed Stites, according to court documents.

After Bryant was killed six months after Stites, Giddings police officer Nathan Lapham told Bryant’s widow that he believed Bryant was murdered because of his investigation into Fennell, according to the motion. Mexican national Hector Manuel Mata-Mota was arrested and charged for the crime, but an appeals court ruled evidence did not support a capital murder charge and Mata-Mota was deported without standing trial, according to the motion.

“The State’s apparent failure to disclose the Giddings Police Department’s investigation of Fennell, any evidence discovered in this investigation, as well as Lapham’s suspicions that Bryant’s murder was related to the Fennell investigation may constitute a violation of Brady v. Maryland,” defense attorneys state in the motion.

The attorneys argue in the motion that the investigators interviewing the widow tried to discredit her or “persuade her not to provide information helpful to Mr. Reed.” The motion also mentions the widow has some history of mental illness.

In the motion, Reed’s attorneys are seeking documents as well as permission to interview law enforcement officials who might have knowledge of the Giddings Police Department’s investigation into Fennell.

Additionally, the attorneys requested interviews with two of the state’s forensic experts in order to see if they still stand by their trial testimony, in light of Reed’s most recent appeal which includes affidavits from three renowned forensic pathologists that refute the claim Stites was murdered after 3 a.m. while on her way to her job at the Bastrop H-E-B.

Instead, the appeal says, the new time of death leaves Fennell as the only suspect, based on his statements that he and Stites were alone prior to her leaving for work.

Fennell, a former Georgetown Police Sergeant, is presently in jail after pleading guilty in 2008 to charges of kidnapping and improper sexual conduct with a person in police custody. Fennell was accused of sexually assaulting a woman involved in an October 2007 domestic disturbance call he responded to.

Reed’s appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeals is still under review.

Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz could not be immediately reached for comment. The Attorney General’s office does not comment on ongoing litigation.