District Judge JD Langley wrote in a 50-page ruling on Monday that Reed “has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted him of capital murder”, bringing the 53-year-old one step closer to his execution date.
Reed, who is Black, was convicted of the murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman, almost 25 years ago and has spent the last two decades on death row.
He has long maintained his innocence and several celebrities including Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Oprah Winfrey have drawn attention to his case in recent years.
A two-week evidentiary hearing was held last month in which Reed’s defence argued he should be granted a new trial based on new witness testimony and evidence which raised doubts around his guilt and the prosecution’s case at his original trial.
Ms Stites, a 19-year-old grocery store worker, was raped and strangled and her body dumped on the side of a road in Bastrop, Texas, in 1996.
She was due to marry her police officer fiancé Jimmy Fennell just weeks after she was killed.
Reed was arrested and charged with her rape and murder one year later and an all-white jury convicted him in 1998.
At his trial, the court heard that semen matching his DNA had been found in the victim.
Reed has said he had consensual sex with Ms Stites a couple of days before her murder but that their relationship was kept a secret because she was white and he was Black so it was seen as a taboo.
No other evidence was found tying Reed to the crime scene.
Meanwhile, he said he believes Mr Fennell killed Ms Stites after learning about their alleged affair.
At Reed’s evidentiary hearing last month, one witness said Ms Stites fiancé had confessed to the murder behind bars.
Arthur Snow Jr testified that Mr Fennell told him “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancée” when the former cop was in prison for an unrelated kidnapping and sexual assault conviction.
Mr Fennell has denied any involvement in her death.
Reed’s defence said there was “reasonable doubt” in the case.
But, on Monday, Judge Langley let the conviction stand.
Reed’s fate now rests in the hands of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which has the power to decide whether or not to grant him a new trial.
It will receive the recommendation of the lower court’s judge but can go against it.
No date has been given for when the appeals court will take up the case.
Jane Pucher, an attorney for Reed, said she hopes the appeals court “recognizes that he should be given a new trial” so that a new jury can hear the “overwhelming evidence of Rodney Reed’s innocence”.
Meanwhile, Ms Stites’ sister Debra Oliver released a statement welcoming the judge’s ruling.
She said there had never been any “tangible evidence” of a relationship between her sister and Reed.
“In 25 years, no tangible evidence of a relationship between Stacey and the defendant has ever materialized. That is because no relationship ever existed,” the statement said.
“There are no photos, no gifts, no phone records, no receipts, and no corroboration by those that knew Stacey best.”
Monday’s ruling marks a major blow to Reed who has been fighting his conviction for years.
He had been just days from execution in November 2019 when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an eleventh-hour stay.
The stay was granted to send the case back to trial court, citing a need for “further factual development”.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.
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