Rodney Reed’s former lawyer: I was ‘unaware’ of inconsistent statements

One of Rodney Reed’s original trial lawyers took to the stand on the third day of a hearing looking into his innocence claims, saying she was ill-prepared at trial to defend her client in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites because she was unaware of inconsistent statements.

Lydia Clay-Jackson, a court-appointed lawyer for Reed, said Thursday that had she known that Jimmy Fennell, Stites’ fianceé, made inconsistent statements about his whereabouts the night before her death and about the possibility that Stites was killed hours earlier, she would have pushed harder against Fennell at trial.

Reed was convicted in 1998 for Stites’ rape and murder. The 19-year-old Giddings woman was found strangled along a rural road in Bastrop County with Reed’s DNA on her body. Reed has maintained his innocence for 20 years as he’s sat on death row. Defense attorneys continue to assert that Fennell is the more likely killer.

WEDNESDAY’S TESTIMONY: Expert disputes time of death at Rodney Reed hearing

On Wednesday, expert forensic pathologist Michael Baden, known for his work in the John F. Kennedy assassination, testified that Stites had been dead before midnight on April 22, 1996 — a timeline that points to another killer. In 1998, the medical examiner said Stites had been killed sometime around 3 a.m. April 23 on her way to work. Baden said rigor mortis and “fixed lividity,” or where blood had pooled in the body, showed otherwise. He also said there was no visible sign Stites was raped.

The testimony was put on Wednesday despite prosecution objections that it was outside the scope of the hearing, which is meant to focus on a statement provided by Bastrop County sheriff’s investigator Curtis Davis last year to CNN, in which the law enforcement officer said Fennell gave him a different account of where he was the night before Stites’ murder than what he testified at trial.

Davis said Fennell told him he was out late drinking after playing baseball. In court, Fennell said he had spent most of the evening at home with Stites.

Clay-Jackson said Wednesday that if she had known about the discrepancy, the “gloves would have come off” at trial.

She said she would have pushed for a pathologist to look further into Stites’ time of death.

But Matthew Ottoway, the state’s prosecutor, said the defense had aggressively pursued Fennell as the killer, introducing mounds of evidence at trial, including that his home had never been searched, he had sold his truck after the murder, he failed a polygraph test and invoked his right to an attorney. Ottoway also said Reed’s defense team had presented evidence in later hearings drawing to inconsistencies in the timeline the morning of Stites’ death, including a writ that was filed in 2006. He said a new timeline would have had no bearing on a medical examiner’s opinion from an autopsy, which considers only scientific evidence.

“What does Jimmy Fennell getting home later have to do with an autopsy?,” Ottoway said.

In May, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals remanded Reed’s case back to Bastrop County to consider whether Fennell had made inconsistent statements about his whereabouts the night before Stites died.

Fennell, who is serving a 10-year prison for raping a woman in his custody when he was a Georgetown cop, refused to testify at Reed’s four-day hearing, pleading his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions. His attorney, Robert Phillips, said he stands by the testimony he gave 20 years ago at trial: that he was home with Stites the evening before she was murdered.

“Mr. Fennell and his family remain outraged that he continues to be made a ‘suspect’ in this horrific crime committed by Rodney Reed,” Phillips said in a written statement.

Reed has said that he and Stites were having a consensual sexual relationship, which would explain his sperm in her body. Clay-Jackson said the defense did not present the nature of their relationship at the original trial because she knew state prosecutors would introduce Reed’s two prior sexual assault offenses.

Reed’s defense team will cross-examine Clay-Jackson after a lunch break. The four-day hearing closes Friday.

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