Jimmy Fennell, a central figure in the case of death row inmate Rodney Reed, is scheduled to be released from prison next week, six months before his 10-year sentence was to be completed for misconduct as a Georgetown police officer.
After denying parole to Fennell 10 previous times, the Board of Pardons and Paroles agreed last week to allow early release with the strictest form of supervision.
Fennell was an early suspect in the 1996 death of his fiance, Stacey Stites, before DNA tests linked semen found in her body to Reed.
Defense lawyers have launched an aggressive campaign to have Reed’s conviction and death sentence overturned on appeal, arguing that Fennell was most likely the killer, perhaps after learning that Reed and Stites were involved in a consensual sexual relationship.
Fennell, who has long maintained his innocence in the Stites murder, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for an unrelated crime — the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman in his custody as a police officer in 2007.
His sentence was originally scheduled to end Sept. 12, but the parole board last week set a March 9 release date under the “super intensive supervision program,” the highest level of parole oversight that includes GPS monitoring and intensive interaction with a parole officer.
In the Feb. 23 decision to approve Fennell’s release, the board ordered special conditions that included an evaluation for sex-offender counseling and mandatory drug and alcohol testing. Fennell also was barred from leaving Texas, drinking alcohol, entering bars or contacting the crime victim.
Mandatory supervision will end Sept. 12, a parole official said.
During Reed’s 1998 trial, prosecutors presented medical testimony indicating that Stites had been strangled shortly after 3 a.m. as she drove from the Giddings apartment she shared with Fennell to her job at a Bastrop grocery store. Reed’s semen was presented as evidence that he had raped and killed Stites, leaving her body alongside a rural road, miles from where her pickup was found at Bastrop High School.
During a four-day hearing in Bastrop last October, Reed’s lawyers presented testimony from a noted forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, who concluded that Stites had not been raped and had been killed before midnight, a time that pointed to Fennell as the killer.
Fennell declined to testify at the hearing, invoking his Fifth Amendment right on the advice of his lawyer, who released a statement saying: “Mr. Fennell and his family remain outraged that he continues to be made a ‘suspect’ in this horrific crime committed by Rodney Reed.”
The Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the power to order a new trial, has not yet acted on Reed’s appeal and Shaver’s recommendation.