Supreme Court Agrees to Review Rodney Reed's Request For DNA Testing in His Innocence Case
The Hill: Supreme Court agrees to review death row inmate’s bid for DNA testing
By: John Kruzel And Mychael Schnell
April 25, 2022
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review death row inmate Rodney Reed’s request for DNA testing of evidence gathered in connection to the 1996 murder for which Reed was convicted and given a death sentence.
Reed, who has maintained his innocence throughout his legal saga, has long sought DNA testing of items recovered from the body and clothing of victim Stacey Stites, as well as items found near the truck of Stites’s then-fiance Jimmy Fennell.
Reed — a Black man who was having an affair with Stites, a 19-year-old white woman — was convicted of murdering Stites in 1998 after the state presented evidence showing that Reed’s DNA matched sperm discovered in Stites’s vaginal tract, according to court filings.
The prosecution asserted that Reed kidnapped and raped Stites the morning she died. Fennell said he was the last person to see Stites alive.
The jury, made up of all white individuals, agreed with the prosecution and sentenced Reed to death.
The issue before the Supreme Court is a technical one that deals with when the statute of limitations on Reed’s request for DNA testing begins. Lower courts are divided on whether it begins after a trial court denies the request, or if it should be extended while an appeals process plays out.
The justices’ move Monday to grant review is just the latest development in Reed’s long battle in the courts to secure DNA testing of the crime scene evidence. He first sought the testing in 1999, but the state refused, instead scheduling an execution date.
In 2014, Reed filed a motion in Texas trial court that requested the testing of items recovered, but it was ultimately denied for being untimely and for failing to demonstrate a reasonable probability that Reed’s conviction would have been vacated if the DNA evidence had been presented at the trial. Reed filed an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2015, which remanded the request to the trial court for subsequent fact finding.
The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed the ruling in 2017, concluding that Reed did not “establish that exculpatory DNA results would have resulted in his acquittal.”
But in August 2019, Reed filed a lawsuit in federal district court, arguing that the appellate court misrepresented requirements in a statute that in turn prevented him from DNA testing the evidence to argue his innocence, as requested.
The Fifth Circuit court ultimately ruled that the clock for Reed’s two-year statute of limitations began in November 2014, after the state trial court denied his request for DNA testing, which meant the Court of Criminal Appeals had filed its affirmation after the statute of limitations expired.
“The Fifth Circuit’s decision cements a circuit conflict over when the statute of limitations begins to run for a… claim seeking DNA testing,” Reed wrote in his request for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The Fifth Circuit here followed the Seventh Circuit. In the Eleventh Circuit, however, the limitations period begins to run only at the end of the state-court litigation denying DNA testing, including any appeals,” he added.
His petition argued that the rulings from the Fifth and Seventh circuits are “illogical.”
The Supreme Court denied his petition in 2020. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a statement at the time that aspects of Reed’s case remained uncertain, saying that it “presented a substantial body of evidence that, if true, casts doubt on the veracity and scientific validity of the evidence on which Reed’s conviction rests.”
“While the Court today declines to review the instant petition, it of course does not pass on the merits of Reed’s innocence or close the door to future review,” she added later.
The Supreme Court on Monday granted a request for appeal he filed last September
Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey have all spoken out about Reed’s case.
In a statement on Monday, Reed’s legal team said it is looking forward to the Supreme Court considering its arguments.
“Rodney Reed has steadfastly maintained his innocence for more than 20 years, and a substantial body of evidence has emerged supporting his innocence,” the statement added.
The Hill has reached out to attorneys for respondents, including county and state officials, for comment.