U.S. Supreme Court boosts Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed’s DNA testing bid
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court police keep watch in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
By John Kruzel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a boost to Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed’s (OTC:REED) bid for DNA testing of crime-scene evidence that he argues will help exonerate him in the 1996 abduction, rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman.
The justices, in a 6-3 decision, overturned a lower court’s ruling that Reed was too late in bringing a civil rights lawsuit against Texas officials who had denied his request for DNA testing. Reed’s lawsuit asserted that his constitutional right to due process was violated.
Reed, who is Black, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 by an all-white jury in the death of Stacey Stites, a white woman. Stites was found raped and strangled with her own belt along the side of a road in Bastrop County two years earlier. Authorities charged Reed after his sperm was found inside the victim’s body. Reed initially claimed he did not know Stites but later said they had been having an affair.
He sought DNA testing of key crime scene evidence including the belt used to strangle Stites, as the “killer’s hands may have left sweat or skin cells” on it.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in October.
As various courts over the years ruled against Reed’s attempts to have his case re-examined based on what he called newly discovered evidence, Reed garnered public support including from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Rihanna. Millions of people have signed an online petition supporting Reed. He is represented by attorneys with the Innocence Project, a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions.
Reed’s attorneys and activists have worked to exonerate him, arguing that evidence unearthed since his trial points instead to Stites’ fiancé, who was then a local police officer, as the killer.
A Texas trial court in 2014 denied Reed’s bid for DNA testing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also rejected it in 2017 based on the procedures it determined were required under the state law that gives prisoners a chance to seek post-conviction DNA testing. That court denied a request for rehearing six months later.
Reed sued in federal court in 2019. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 decided that Reed should have filed suit within two years of the initial 2014 trial court decision.