Celebrities Draw Attention to Texas Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed


Reilly Smith

Several celebrities, including Rihanna, have publicly expressed their support for Rodney Reed.

Avery Eldon, Staff Reporter

The clock is ticking for 51-year-old Rodney Reed as he faces the death penalty for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, with whom he said he was involved in a secret affair. He is scheduled for execution in Texas on Nov. 20. 

With several new testimonies emerging in this case, some people across the country hope for Reed’s execution to be delayed, believing him to be wrongly convicted. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardishian, and Beyoncé have taken to social media to speak out about the case of Reed, who is black man convicted of murder and rape in this case. 

“Please take a hard look at the substantial evidence in the Rodney Reed case that points to his innocence. Be honest. Be fair,” Beyoncé said in a statement on her website, pleading with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to “give [Reed] back his life.”

Even before new evidence began to surface, arguments made by Reed’s attorneys calling for further investigation of the case linking Reed to the murder of Stites have been denied. Now, with awareness spreading, his defense lawyers hope that if there were to be a stay of his execution, evidence could prove innocence. 

Reed’s attorneys have been fighting against his sentence for over 20 years, and they have been aiming to point fingers away from Reed and towards the victim’s then-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, who was formerly a Georgetown Police sergeant. 

Requested tests for DNA testing on the murder weapon have been repeatedly denied. Witnesses have claimed that Fennell knew of the alleged affair between Stites and Reed, which provides a potential motive for Fennell. In a statement disclosed by a former jailmate of Fennell’s, the former police officer said that he “had to kill [his] n*****-loving fiancé.” Fennell was released from jail in 2018 for the kidnapping and rape of a woman involved in a case he handled while on duty.

Petitions circling the internet calling for Reed’s freedom have gained more than 2 million signatures, with outcries for Gov. Abbott to slow the execution to further inspect evidence and witness statements that have recently been uncovered by Reed’s attorneys. In addition, Reed’s defenders have pointed out that all members of the jury that convicted him were white.

These petitions have circulated among people of all different ages, even gaining the attention of some students here at La Salle.

“I know of [Reed] because he’s on death row right now,” freshman Stefano Au said. “He’s been in a mistrial, in my opinion.”

One of Reed’s attorneys, Bryce Benjet, claimed the prosecution had built the case against Reed by accusing him of abducting, raping and killing Stites in a two hour period, but forensic scientists looking into the case said that Stites had been killed hours before Fennell had told the police she left for work. Defenders of Reed say that this suggests that she had been killed in the apartment, when it was just the two of them. 

With the ongoing controversy around this case, some people have argued that Reed is guilty, while others are fighting for a retrial, where more evidence would be investigated with a more diverse jury. 

“I hope this opens everyone’s eyes up [to the fact] that this isn’t just something that you see in movies, hear about in stories, or reading books; that this actually happens, it’s actually happening in our world, in our country,” sophomore Ella Gach said. 

Some criminal justice advocates are saying this is yet another case of a black man being caught in a net for a crime he didn’t commit, because the system is against him.

“I think that this is just another example of racism and discrimination in our country,” sophomore Anna Waldron said. “I think it’s really disgusting how this is continuing to be a problem, even though we have come a long way. It’s really, really, really unfair that somebody who has evidence of his innocence is going to face not only a prison sentence but death.”

“I think it’s inhumane and wrong for somebody to be faced with such… serious allegations for something that he didn’t even do,” she said.

Fennell denies killing Stites. His lawyer argues that it is “inconceivable” that people coming forward with new testimonies are being truthful, and that they would have spoken up sooner if their accounts are accurate. 

Prosecutors accused Reed of attacking and/or sexually assaulting six women aside from Stites, and according to Benjet, Reed has denied these allegations. One of the women Reed was accused of attacking, Linda Schlueter, said that Reed “is not innocent at all and all these people that think he’s innocent, I’m so sorry, they’re so blinded.”

Advocates for Reed are hopeful that through the power of social media, protests, and petitions he will get a retrial, in which more evidence would be reviewed, potentially leading to his freedom.

“I know [that] we don’t [always] think about death… [but] we need to try and not take our life for granted because, like [Reed], one day we could just be at the wrong spot at the wrong time, [and] someone could blame us for something that we didn’t do and — just like that — our lives can be taken away from us,” Gach said. “So we have to be aware that these things do happen and this really is the real world.”