(Austin, Texas) The trial courtroom choose overseeing Rodney Reed’s July 2021 evidentiary listening to abdicated his position as an unbiased, deliberative, impartial reality finder and rubberstamped the State’s proposed findings of reality and conclusions of legislation, in accordance with the Memorandum and Objections to Findings of Reality and Conclusions of Regulation that Mr. Reed’s attorneys filed immediately on the Texas Court docket of Legal Appeals (CCA). As a result of the choose deserted his responsibility to be a impartial, impartial reality finder, the CCA ought to reject the trial courtroom’s copy-and-pasted order, Mr. Reed argues.
Rodney Reed’s Memorandum and Objections to Findings of Reality and Conclusions of Regulation could be seen, here.
Mr. Reed was scheduled for execution in November 2019, however the CCA issued a keep to permit the courts to contemplate new proof of his innocence and remanded the case to the twenty first Judicial District Court docket in Bastrop County for an evidentiary listening to. Regardless of the brand new, overwhelming proof of innocence offered on the evidentiary listening to, Decide J.D. Langley adopted, almost verbatim, the State’s proposed order, together with a number of apparent factual misrepresentations.
“The abdication of the choose’s responsibility can’t be tolerated, particularly when an harmless man’s life is at stake.”
“The abdication of the choose’s responsibility can’t be tolerated, particularly when an harmless man’s life is at stake. The CCA entrusted Decide Langley with making neutral findings and impartial assessments of witnesses’ credibility, supported by the proof. That didn’t occur,” mentioned Jane Pucher, Senior Workers Lawyer on the Innocence Mission, and one in every of Mr. Reed’s attorneys.
At closing arguments, the choose demonstrated that he fully misunderstood his position as an impartial reality finder and supposed to undertake, in its solely, one aspect’s proposed order: “What I’m right here immediately to search out out is why you assume I should signal your model.” (Objections at pp. 1-2.)
Convicted by an all-white jury in 1998, Mr. Reed, a Black man, has spent 23 years on loss of life row for a criminal offense he didn’t commit. In 1996, Stacey Stites, a white lady with whom Mr. Reed was having an affair, was discovered murdered in Bastrop County. For almost a 12 months, the prime suspect within the case was Ms. Stites’s fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a police officer who was abusive and violent towards Ms. Stites, in accordance with quite a few witnesses. However the police turned their consideration to Mr. Reed when DNA recovered from Ms. Stites matched him.
The choose’s cut-and-pasted order exhibits that he failed in his responsibility to rigorously and independently assess the credibility of 47 witnesses. Having adopted the State’s proposed order wholesale, the courtroom discovered all 20+ witnesses on Mr. Reed’s behalf to be not credible and located all 20+ witnesses on the State’s behalf to be credible.
“It isn’t believable that ALL of Mr. Reed’s witnesses weren’t credible, together with former legislation enforcement officers. That’s very true, provided that the witnesses Mr. Reed referred to as had no motive to assist him: these have been mates and associates of Ms. Stites and of Mr. Fennell,” mentioned Pucher.
At the very least eight witnesses, together with Ms. Stites’s co-workers, mates, and household, and a former member of legislation enforcement, testified on the evidentiary listening to that Ms. Stites and Mr. Reed knew one another and have been romantically concerned on the time of her loss of life. This testimony disproved the State’s concept at trial that Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites have been strangers, she by no means would have related to him, and subsequently he should have kidnapped and sexually assaulted her. (Objections at p. 17.)
Specifically, Suzan Hugen, Ms. Stites’s buddy and co-worker, testified on the evidentiary listening to that she noticed Ms. Stites standing near a Black man on the HEB, the 2 have been laughing and flirting, and Ms. Stites launched him to Ms. Hugen as “Rodney” and a great buddy. Ms. Hugen, a disabled mom of 4, traveled from out of state to testify “for Stacey,” her buddy and former co-worker. (Objections at pp. 17, 22, 25, 39.) Even though eight witnesses corroborated one another, the courtroom didn’t credit score any of the testimony displaying Ms. Stites and Mr. Reed knew one another.
At the very least 9 witnesses, together with Ms. Stites’s mates and associates, and a member of legislation enforcement, testified on the evidentiary listening to that Ms. Stites and Mr. Fennell didn’t have a cheerful relationship. Their testimony described Ms. Stites’s and Mr. Fennell’s relationship as hostile, controlling, and even abusive. This proof instantly contradicted Mr. Fennell’s testimony at Mr. Reed’s trial that the couple had a loving and trouble-free relationship and have been wanting ahead to their wedding ceremony. (Objections at p. 22.). Their testimony additionally defined Mr. Fennell’s motive to hurt his fiancée: he suspected she was dishonest on him with a Black man.
Charles Wayne Fletcher, a former member of the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Workplace, acknowledged that Mr. Fennell advised him a month earlier than Ms. Stites was murdered that she was “fucking a ni****.” (Objections at pp. 22, 27.) The son of Ms. Stites’s downstairs neighbor testified that he was together with his father when he advised former Lee County District Lawyer Ted Weems in regards to the violent fights he overheard in Ms. Stites’s and Mr. Fennell’s house, data that the State illegally suppressed on the time of trial. (Objections at pp. 22-23.) Equally stunning, an insurance coverage agent who bought life insurance coverage to Ms. Stites with Mr. Fennell current testified that Ms. Stites mentioned she was undecided why she wanted life insurance coverage. Mr. Fennell responded: “If I ever caught you messing round on me, I’ll kill you and no person’ll know that I used to be the one which did it.” (Objections at p. 23.)
Regardless of the corroborating testimony of those 9 witnesses, the courtroom discredited all of it. (Objections at p. 24.) In distinction, the one witnesses who testified that the couple’s relationship was peaceable, and that the courtroom credited as credible, have been Mr. Fennell himself, his mom, and his sister. Mr. Fennell, in fact, has each purpose to bend the reality.
At the very least three witnesses testified on the evidentiary listening to that Mr. Fennell knew Ms. Stites was having an affair with a Black man and subsequently had a motive to homicide her. Two extra witnesses testified that Mr. Fennell made callous remarks about Ms. Stites quickly after her loss of life. Two different witnesses testified that Mr. Fennell confessed to killing Ms. Stites. If this proof had been offered at trial, it will have undercut the picture of Mr. Fennell as a grieving fiancé, proven that Mr. Fennell had a motive to kill Ms. Stites, and the jury wouldn’t have convicted Mr. Reed. (Objections at pp. 27-29.)
Along with Mr. Fletcher’s testimony that Mr. Fennell was conscious of an affair with a Black man, James Clampit, a deputy within the Lee County Sheriff’s Workplace and an acquaintance of Mr. Fennell’s, testified that he attended Ms. Stites’s viewing, the place he heard Mr. Fennell say “she bought what she deserved.” (Objections at p. 27.) That testimony was corroborated by one other member of legislation enforcement and former co-worker of Mr. Fennell’s, Cindy Schmidt, who testified that she overheard Mr. Fennell say at Ms. Stites’s viewing: “a minimum of the bitch bought to put on her wedding ceremony gown.” (Objections at p. 27.)
Two individuals who have been incarcerated with Mr. Fennell, when he was serving a ten-year sentence for sexually assaulting a girl in his custody as a police officer, testified that Mr. Fennell knew about Ms. Stites’s affair with a Black man and confessed to killing her. One testified
that Mr. Fennell mentioned that he “took care of her” and “that rattling n[-word] goes to do the time” whereas making a strangulation gesture. (Objections at p. 28.)
The courtroom didn’t credit score any of those witnesses, together with the previous legislation enforcement officers, and as an alternative credited the statements of Mr. Fennell, whose testimony was uncorroborated and self-serving. (Objections at p. 29.)
The courtroom clearly erred in crediting Mr. Fennell’s self-serving and uncorroborated testimony over extra dependable witnesses who, in contrast to Mr. Fennell, had no motive to lie. Mr. Fennell had a robust motivation to lie as a result of he was as soon as the prime suspect in Ms. Stites’s homicide and can be once more if Mr. Reed’s conviction was overturned. (Objections at p. 29.)
On the evidentiary listening to, Mr. Fennell was caught in lies quite a few occasions. For instance, he mentioned he solely texted with a State investigator a couple of times earlier than the listening to, however Mr. Reed’s counsel offered proof that he and the investigator texted over 100 occasions. Mr. Fennell denied cleansing out his financial institution accounts after Ms. Stites’s loss of life, however a police report and financial institution information confirmed that he did. Mr. Fennell additionally testified that he didn’t use the “N” phrase fairly often, however a number of witnesses testified on the contrary, and he later admitted that he did use the phrase. (Objections at pp. 29-30.)
Mr. Fennell asserted, implausibly, that each single one in every of Mr. Reed’s witnesses – almost two dozen witnesses – was mendacity on the evidentiary listening to. Mr. Fennell was forthcoming on one key level: he testified that he pled responsible to kidnapping and improper sexual contact with an individual in his custody as a police officer and served 10 years in jail for the offense. (Objections at pp. 30-31.)
As well as, nationally acknowledged specialists who testified on the evidentiary listening to fully debunked the forensic case towards Mr. Reed. Two nationally acknowledged forensic specialists testified professional bono that the conviction towards Mr. Reed was based mostly on flawed forensic testimony. The State’s two forensic specialists agreed with Mr. Reed’s specialists on a number of key factors, together with that the State sponsored false scientific testimony at Mr. Reed’s trial. Regardless of this settlement, the courtroom refused to credit score any of Mr. Reed’s forensic specialists. Former Travis County Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo filed an affidavit in 2012 stating that key factors of his trial testimony have been “incorrect” and never “medically or scientifically supported,” however the courtroom, in adopting the State’s proposed order with out modifications, incorrectly discovered that Dr. Bayardo didn’t recant his testimony. (Objections at pp. 31-38.)
The courtroom ignored compelling proof that Mr. Reed’s knowledgeable witnesses have been extra credible than the State’s specialists. Considerably, Mr. Reed’s forensic specialists testified professional bono, whereas the State’s specialists charged as much as $500 per hour. After Mr. Reed’s specialists issued their report, 14 different revered forensic pathologists agreed with its conclusions. The courtroom didn’t acknowledge this overwhelming help for Mr. Reed’s specialists’ conclusions in its order. (Objections at pp. 39-40.)
On the eve of the July 2021 evidentiary listening to, the State revealed, for the primary time, that mates and associates of Ms. Stites advised police — earlier than Mr. Reed’s trial — that Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites knew one another and have been romantically concerned. This testimony disproved the State’s concept at Mr. Reed’s trial that he and Ms. Stites have been strangers, who wouldn’t have related to one another, and subsequently he needed to have kidnapped and sexually assaulted her. Regardless of having these witness statements in its information, the State falsely advised the jury investigators “talked to all these individuals” and regarded excessive and low for proof of a relationship and located no proof. (See Mr. Reed’s Request for Grant of Utility for Writ of Habeas Corpus at here.)
The State additionally illegally suppressed statements from Ms. Stites’s neighbors about loud home violence arguments between Ms. Stites and Mr. Fennell. After Ms. Stites’s homicide, her downstairs neighbor, William Sappington, reported violent home arguments between Ms. Stites and Mr. Fennell to a police officer and a District Lawyer in neighboring Lee County, Ted Weems. Though then-District Lawyer Weems was required to show this data over to Mr. Reed’s attorneys, he — like different police and prosecutors — didn’t accomplish that. (See Mr. Reed’s Request for Grant of Utility for Writ of Habeas Corpus at here.)
These two crystal clear Brady violations comply with a sample of earlier Brady violations which can be nonetheless pending earlier than the CCA and are detailed in Mr. Reed’s 2019 habeas petition.
Pucher added, “For 23 years, prosecutors illegally hid proof that would have exonerated Mr. Reed. Beneath the U.S. Supreme Court docket case Brady vs. Maryland (1963), the State had an affirmative responsibility to show over all proof that was favorable to Mr. Reed’s protection. As a substitute, the State hid the proof pointing to Mr. Reed’s innocence for greater than 20 years. Beneath the black letter legislation of Brady, Mr. Reed’s conviction and loss of life sentence should be overturned.”