The all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is led by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, yesterday rejected the latest appeal of Rodney Reed. (Keller’s own trial on charges of bias, misconduct and incompetence from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct starts August 17 in San Antonio.) The CCA in the past has declined to grant relief for other innocent people who were later released after taking their cases to federal courts, including Ernest Willis and Kerry Cook. Reed now heads to the federal level for his next appeals where, like others before him, he may find more qualified judges than those on the CCA will rule in his favor.
The state’s highest criminal court has again rejected death row inmate Rodney Reed’s claims that he did not kill Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old who was raped and strangled in Bastrop County in 1996.
Reed’s case now is expected to move into the federal court system for his next — and final — round of appeals before his execution can be scheduled.
Reed’s latest appeal built on allegations, contained in earlier court petitions, that Stites was murdered by her then-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a former Georgetown and Giddings police officer who was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping and improper sexual activity with a woman in his custody.
But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that the latest allegations against Fennell did not change the case against Reed.
“The allegations of Fennell’s misconduct and domestic violence do not exonerate (Reed),” the court ruled in an unanimous, unsigned opinion. “The totality of the evidence before us still supports a guilty verdict.”
Reed’s latest appeal included information compiled by Georgetown police during their investigation into an October 2007 incident when Fennell responded to a domestic disturbance call, drove the woman to a secluded area in his patrol car and sexually assaulted her.
According to police reports detailed in Reed’s appeal, Fennell also forced a woman he met during a Georgetown traffic stop in July 2007 to have sex with him, abused his now ex-wife and stalked a Giddings woman in 1997 while working for the Giddings Police Department.
Reed’s lawyers argued that the new information, coupled with earlier allegations of Fennell’s misconduct, points to Fennell as Stites’ killer. They also claim no jury would have convicted Reed had it known about Fennell’s abusive history with women.