The state’s highest criminal court Wednesday denied death row inmate Rodney Reed’s request for additional DNA testing, dealing a significant blow to efforts to avert execution for the Bastrop man.
The 8-0 decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said Reed wasn’t eligible for testing on items linked to the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites because the possibility of cross-contamination limited the usefulness of most of the items he wanted tested.
The court also said Reed’s lawyers couldn’t prove that the DNA results would have changed the outcome of his trial — a standard for allowing testing that was set by state law.
Defense lawyer Bryce Benjet said the ruling was a “deeply flawed” misinterpretation of state law that undermined the Legislature’s intent to ensure that “comprehensive testing be performed before the government sends a man to his death.”
“The Court of Criminal Appeals continues to ignore the law on the books and limit access to DNA testing based on an outmoded and artificially narrow conception of how DNA is used day in and day out to solve crimes,” Benjet said.
Reed’s defense team was still reviewing the ruling and evaluating options, Benjet said, adding that he expects to ask federal courts to order the testing.
Now 49, Reed was 10 days from execution in February 2015 when the Texas appeals court stepped in to order a closer look at his request for modern DNA testing.
Benjet had hoped the DNA tests would show that Reed was innocent of the crime and that Stites was killed by her fiance, Jimmy Fennell. Reed has argued that he and Stites were engaged in a secret affair, explaining the presence of his semen in her body, and that discovery of the affair gave Fennell a motive for murder. Prosecutors argued that the evidence showed that Reed raped Stites shortly before she was strangled.
Stites, a 19-year-old Giddings resident whose body was found along a rural road in Bastrop County, was killed 2½ weeks before her wedding date. Fennell was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault against a woman in his custody as a Georgetown police officer.
Reed’s request was based on the argument that modern tests could identify DNA in skin cells and microscopic particles left behind on items that had come in contact with the killer, including the murder weapon — a belt that had been found in two pieces — as well as Stites’ clothing and items recovered from around her body.
In its opinion, the appeals court said much of the evidence had been mingled in boxes after having been repeatedly handled by lawyers, prosecutors, court employees and jurors — making skin-cell DNA identification unreliable.
DNA experts wh0 testified on Reed’s behalf, however, said the tests could identify redundant profiles that might shed light on the murderer.