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US Supreme Court to hear case of Texas man on death row

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Rodney Reed, 54, was convicted of the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites./AFP
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Oct 11, 2022 - 11:40 AM

WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal Tuesday from a Texas man on death row who maintains his innocence and whose case has drawn the attention of celebrities, lawmakers and millions of Americans.

Rodney Reed, 54, an African-American man, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman.

Traces of his sperm were found on the victim’s body, but Reed insists he is innocent of the 1996 murder and that he and Stites had a secret consensual relationship.

The conservative-dominated Supreme Court will not be examining Reed’s conviction during oral arguments on Tuesday, but a narrow technical question having to do with procedural issues.

The nine-member court’s ruling, which will be delivered before June 30, could allow Reed’s case to be reopened — or pave the way for his execution by lethal injection.

Reed’s supporters believe that evidence gathered after the trial points to another suspect, Stites’s fiance Jimmy Fennell, a disgraced police officer who later served a 10-year prison sentence for a kidnapping and rape committed while on duty.

A fellow inmate says Fennell confessed to him that he had killed Stites because she was sleeping with a Black man.

Fennell has denied any involvement in Stites’s murder, but police initially considered him a suspect.

Texas prosecutors claimed during Reed’s trial that he had sexually assaulted several other women before Stites’s murder.

His execution was stayed just five days before it was to be carried out in 2019 following a campaign that included reality star Kim Kardashian, the singers Rihanna and Beyonce, and Texas lawmakers including Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Two petitions seeking to halt Reed’s execution that circulated on the internet drew more than 3.5 million signatures.

DNA testing of murder weapon 

To prove his innocence, Reed asked the Texas authorities in 2014 to conduct new DNA analysis on the murder weapon, a belt that was used to strangle Stites.

His appeals for DNA testing were repeatedly denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, so Reed turned to the federal courts.

But they refused to intervene on the grounds the request came too late, after the two-year window allowed to challenge a state court ruling in federal court had closed.

The question before the Supreme Court is, when does the window open?

Texas says it begins from the first state court decision. Reed maintains it is from the last one.

Reed’s attorneys are also arguing that imposing a statute of limitations on when DNA testing can be conducted is unconstitutional.

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