Rodney Reed will not be executed next week. Late Friday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' highest criminal court, granted Reed, who was convicted of capital murder in 1998, a stay of execution so that the trial court in his case can evaluate new evidence.
As Reed's execution date approached, the 51-year-old has gained the support of activists and politicians around the country, including dozens of Texas legislators, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Oprah, all of whom have pushed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to grant Reed a reprieve.
With the court's decision, Abbott is off the hook, at least for now.
According to Bastrop County prosecutors, Reed raped and murdered 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996 as Stites tried to get to work at a grocery store. While Reed's semen was found inside Stites, he's consistently argued that the two were having a consensual affair, and that her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, killed Stites because of it.
After the murder, police found pieces of Stites belt, which is believed to be the murder weapon, in Fennell's truck. Throughout his appeals, Reed has asked that the belt be tested for DNA but has been denied at every turn. In the last several weeks, Reed's attorneys have presented an affidavit from a prison inmate who said Fennell — in prison on an unrelated sexual charge — confessed to the murder and claimed to have separate affidavits that confirm the affair between Stites and Reed, according to the Associated Press.
The Innocence Project has been fighting for Reed for almost two decades.
"We are extremely relieved and thankful that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of execution for our client Rodney Reed," the group said Friday night in a statement. "The CCA has ordered the claims of Brady violations, false testimony and actual innocence in Mr. Reed's case back to the trial court. This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed's innocence."
Texas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt tweeted that Reed's family was "overjoyed but (knows) the fight isn't over."
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