A Texas Death Row inmate is garnering national attention just weeks before he is scheduled to enter the Huntsville death chamber.
In an eleventh-hour bid to spare the life of Rodney Reed, lawyers at The Innocence Project are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas Governor Greg Abbot claiming that new evidence exonerates him from killing Stacey Stites 23 years ago in Bastrop.
Reed, 51, was convicted of raping and killing 20-year-old Stacey Stites in April 1996.
Court records say that Stites was driving to an early morning work shift at a grocery store, as she was working extra shifts to help pay for her upcoming wedding to police officer Jimmy Fennell.
Reed was arrested nearly a year after the murder when investigaors linked him to semen found in the victim’s body. He was currently under investigation for another alleged sexual assault.
"It was the worst mistake I ever could have made, " Reed told NBC News. "I denied everything. I did not want to be incriminated, implicated or anything in relation to her death."
Reed’s attorneys claim that his conviction was based on expert testimony that the presence of his DNA on and in Stite's body was dispositive evidence that he murdered her.
“Today, none of the state’s key trial witnesses, including the medical examiner, stand by that conclusion and three and three distinguished pathologists agree (without contradiction by an expert from the state) that the state’s case against Reed is ‘medically and scientifically impossible,’” Reed’s attorney Barry C. Scheck and Bryce Benjet said in Supreme Court filings.
The attorneys claim that the state ignored two decades of “factual development” and relies only on scientifically invalid and recanted trial record as conclusive proof of Reed’s guilt.
“Only through this willful blindness can the state defend the terse,” Scheck and Benjet said.
Reed has claimed that he and Stites had a consensual intimate relationship, and that he had been with her the day before she was found dead. He also claimed that he saw the victim a couple of times a week, but had to keep their relationship discreet because he is black and she is white.
His attorneys claim that new evidence implicates the victim’s fiancee as the murder.
Stites' family insists that none of that is true, and that she and Fennell were happy and weeks away from getting married.
“New witnesses, including Stites’s own cousin, have come forward and corroborated Reed’s claim that they knew that Reed and Stites were romantically involved,” Scheck and Benjet said. ”At this point, the state’s original case has been completely discredited and deconstructed.”
The case has gained national attention recently after celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna called on Abbott to stop the execution.
As of Thursday afternoon, a petition to persuade Abbott and other elected officials to stay the execution had 2,053,128 signatures.
“Governor Greg Abbott has stopped an execution before. He can again,” the petition states.
Reed is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20 at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit.