Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues stay in execution of Rodney Reed

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay in the execution of Rodney Reed on Friday afternoon.

The decision came just hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Friday recommended delaying the execution of Reed, whose conviction is being questioned by new evidence that his supporters say raises serious doubts about his guilt. The 51-year-old Reed was set for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.

Now, the case will go back to a trial court. That court has been asked to consider new evidence that his legal team believe could challenge his conviction.

The decision capped off weeks of protests and activism in Reed's defense.

Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.

Reed, who's been in jail for more than two decades, has long maintained he didn't kill Stites and that her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black. Fennell's attorney has said his client didn't kill Stites. Fennell was paroled last year after serving time in prison for sexual assault.

Prosecutors say Reed's semen was found in the victim, his claims of an affair with Stites were not proven at trial, Fennell was cleared as a suspect and Reed had a history of committing other sexual assaults.

Reed's lawyers say his conviction was based on flawed evidence. They have denied the other sexual assault accusations made by prosecutors.

In recent weeks, Reed's attorneys have presented affidavits in support of his claims of innocence, including one by a former prison inmate who claims Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur. Reed's lawyers say other recent affidavits corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed and show that Fennell was violent and aggressive toward Stites.

“I want them to know if they read the trial transcript and look at the facts of the trial, they would say Rodney Reed is guilty,” Stites sister, Debra Oliver, said.

Mike Ware is co-founder of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The group issued a letter Thursday calling on the courts to review the new evidence.

“It is fairly unusual for someone that is this close to an execution date to have such strong, strong, strong evidence of innocence, much of which has been uncovered recently,” Ware said.

Ware added that it's critical the courts get a chance to look at the newly submitted evidence, which could eventually lead to a new trial.

“Once those issues are vetted and properly looked at and analyzed, it may be that he's totally entitled to a new trial,” Ware said.

So far, the Texas Attorney General's Office has not said whether it plans to appeal the stay of Reed's execution.

Reed's efforts to stop his execution have received support from such celebrities as Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Oprah. Lawmakers from both parties, including Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, have also asked that officials take a closer look at the evidence in the case.

Since Texas resumed executions in 1982, only three death row inmates have had their sentences commuted to life in prison within days of their scheduled executions. The parole board since 1982 has recommended commuting a death row inmate's sentence five times. But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejected the recommendation twice, in 2004 and 2009.