Michael Baden: Death row inmate Rodney Reed is innocent

Famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who recently made news by declaring Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide was possibly a homicide, says Rodney Reed, the person convicted in 1998 of the rape and murder of Stacy Stites, is an innocent man.

Reed, 51, has sat on death row for more than 21 years and is set to be executed on November 20 for the murder of Stacy Stites. Now that his execution is just days away, many are speaking up about the mountain of evidence that they believe should result in Reed's exoneration.

In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas. Supporters for Reed, who's facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn't commit, are mounting a final push in the courts and on social media to stop his execution, which is being called into question by lawmakers, pastors, celebrities and the European Union.

In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas. Supporters for Reed, who's facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn't commit, are mounting a final push in the courts and on social media to stop his execution, which is being called into question by lawmakers, pastors, celebrities and the European Union. (AP)

In an interview with Fox News, Baden claims that based on the condition of the body when it was discovered, it is "medically and scientifically impossible" that Reed murdered Stites.

“The forensic evidence shows he could not have been with her at the time of death," he said. "She was already decomposing when her DNA was found in a truck, in the driver's side.”

The evidence presented in the case has been deemed “questionable” by Baden and his attorney Bryce Benjet, citing the lack of DNA testing on items such as the murder weapon and the truck Stite’s was found in. Inconsistencies, such as the time of death and the alibi of Stite’s former boyfriend Jimmy Fennell, all lead to one point -- this case should not be closed, Baden said, adding that there was “no evidence that she was raped.”

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The forensic evidence shows he could not have been with her at the time of death. She was already decomposing when her DNA was found in a truck, in the driver side.

— Dr Michael Baden

So what is the truth?

Reed's account is that he and Stites were involved in a consensual sexual relationship, which would account for the semen discovered inside her body. During the trial, with the lack of corroborating witnesses, there was no one to support Reed’s claim. But years later, the relationship was confirmed by two witnesses, including Stites’ cousin and a former co-worker.

People hold hands while praying during a protest against the execution of Rodney Reed on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Bastrop, Texas. Reed is scheduled to die later this month for the 1996 killing of a 19-year-old woman in Central Texas.

People hold hands while praying during a protest against the execution of Rodney Reed on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Bastrop, Texas. Reed is scheduled to die later this month for the 1996 killing of a 19-year-old woman in Central Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

For a brief time after the murder, the prime suspect was Stites’ boyfriend. Benjet, Reed's attorney, said Fennell was the prime suspect in the murder and that “serious missteps” occurred in the initial investigation. After failing a polygraph for the second time, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to cooperate with authorities.

Reed was arrested for an unrelated incident involving an unauthorized use of a vehicle for which he was never convicted of.  Once his DNA surfaced, he was convicted of Stites' murder and sentenced to death.  According to Benjet, it wasn’t until Reed was charged with the murder and identified with the DNA that the rape theory was introduced.

"This idea of it being a rape-murder only took place after Rodney was identified with the sperm,” Benjet said.

There have also been new testimonies since the end of the trial that have raised serious questions about Reed's guilt. A close friend of Fennell, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, admits that Fennell gave him an “inconsistent account” of where he was on the night of the murder. According to Davis, Fennell told him that he was out drinking on the night she was killed, which contradicts Fennell’s claim that he was with Stites in their apartment.

In addition, two other witnesses have come forward in recent weeks with signed affidavits. One, an insurance salesperson, said Fennell threated to kill Stites while applying for life insurance. The other, a deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, said Fennell made an “alarming and incriminating statement” at Stites’ funeral.

As recently as last month, Arthur Snow, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood who served time with Fennell, said that Fennell once admitted to killing Stites and said: “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée.”

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In a recent statement to the Associated Press, Fennell's attorney, Bob Phillips, said his client denies killing Stites and maintains that Reed is guilty.

The “Innocence Project,” which focuses on inmates on death row and aims to overturn wrongful convictions through DNA testing, has taken on Reed's case and has received a vast amount of support from politicians, celebrities, and organizations on both sides of the political aisle.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called it "remarkable bipartisan coalition" in a tweet.

Beto O'Rourke also expressed support.

Letters from Texas State representatives to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot requesting a reprieve for Reed shows the amount of support that has grown for Reed.

Texas State senators have also called for a re-examination of the Reed case.

Lawyers for Reed have filed a new writ of Habeas Corpus with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 21st Judicial District Court, which includes four new witness statements. The additional witness statements include testimony from Richard Derleth, a deputy in the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office, Brent Sappington and his daughter-in-law, who were neighbors of Stites and Fennell, and Rebecca Peoples, a co-worker of Stites.

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"We continue to follow every investigative lead in this case, and this painstaking work continues to bear fruit. These are not people coming out of the woodwork. They are police officers, verified co-workers of the victim, and her neighbors," Benjet wrote in a press release. "These people have nothing to gain by telling us what they know; and what we have learned corroborates Mr. Reed's relationship with Ms. Stites and further implicates Jimmy Fennell in the murder. While Bastrop County law enforcement clearly suspected Fennell in 1996, it is increasingly apparent that their shoddy investigation and rush to judgment against Mr. Reed resulted in the wrong man landing on death row.”

Gov. Abbott did not return a request for comment.