A Texas judge on Sunday denied a retrial of convicted rapist and murderer, Rodney Reed, after deciding that newly presented evidence was not sufficient enough to grant a new one.
Reed, 53, is currently on death row after being found guilty and sentenced to death for the assault, rape, and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.
Prosecutors allege that in 1996, Reed, who is black, raped, and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Austin.
Reed has long maintained that the victims’ fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, who is white, is the one who killed her after discovering she was having an affair with Reed. Fennell, who served ten years in prison for kidnapping and allegedly raping a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007, has denied killing Stites.
Retired state District Judge J.D. Langley was appointed to review the case after the Texas Court of Criminal appeals put Reed’s November 2019 planned execution by lethal injection on hold when new evidence came to light that raised serious questions about his guilt.
Lawyers for Reed claimed that prosecutors suppressed evidence, that Fennell falsely testified he didn’t kill Stites, and that Reed is actually innocent.
But Judge Langley Sunday said the claims Reed is making were not enough to grant a retrial.
“The court has extensively considered the entire record of this case from its trial though the 10-day evidentiary hearing, at which the Court was able to observe and witness and assess their credibility concerning applicant’s claims. This court recommends that all relief sought by the applicant be denied,” Langley wrote in his 50-page ruling.
The judge said that evidence did not support Reed’s claims and that Reed, “has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent.”
The recommendation now heads to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will decide the outcome, although a date for the official ruling is not immediately known.
Reed’s supporters, which include celebrities such as Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, and Oprah Winfrey as well as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers like Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, have asked officials to review the evidence in the case. Supporters have often cited Reed’s case as an example of a black man railroaded by an American criminal justice system.
In July, multiple witnesses and experts testified on Reed’s behalf, stating that both he and Stites had been having a consensual affair and claiming that they had seen the two together. They also claimed that they had seen Fennell act suspiciously after Stites’ death.
Several forensic experts testified that the victim died hours earlier than the timeline presented by prosecutors.
However, prosecutors say Reed’s claims of an affair with Stites were not proven at trial, and note that he had a history of committing other sexual assaults. Reed was indicted, but never convicted, in several other rape cases months before his trial in Stites’ death began in 1998, The Texas Tribune reports.
Judge Langley in Sunday’s ruling questioned the 17 witnesses who testified on Reed’s behalf, saying that many had “waited decades to bring forth” their recollections.
Langley also sided with prosecution experts who claim that Stites died within a two-hour window, which would mean that it was not possible for Fennell to have killed her.
The retired judge also said he found Fennell to be a “credible” witness.
“If a new jury heard the overwhelming evidence of Rodney Reed’s innocence, it would have reasonable doubts,” Jane Pucher, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, said. “Convicted by an all-white jury, Mr. Reed has spent 23 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.