HOUSTON (AP) — Texas’ top appeals court on Friday halted the scheduled execution of inmate Rodney Reed, whose conviction is being questioned by new evidence that his supporters say raises serious doubt about his guilt.
The stay of execution issued Friday afternoon by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came just hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended delaying the lethal injection.
The parole board unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Reed. The board rejected Reed’s request to commute his sentence to life in prison.
The 51-year-old Reed had been set for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.
Reed’s efforts to stop his execution have received support from such celebrities as Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah. Lawmakers from both parties, including Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, have also asked that officials take a closer look at the evidence in the case.
The board’s decision was to go next to Gov. Greg Abbott, who hadn’t said whether he would accept or reject it or do nothing. The stay likely makes Abbott’s decision moot until Reed’s appeals are exhausted.
Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Reed, had sought to delay the execution to properly consider “powerful new evidence of his innocence” and for possibly allowing DNA testing that could prove “who actually committed the crime.”
Since Texas resumed executions in 1982, only three death row inmates have had their sentences commuted to life in prison within days of their scheduled executions.
The parole board since 1982 has recommended commuting a death row inmate’s sentence five times. But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejected the recommendation twice, in 2004 and 2009.
Since taking office in 2015, Abbott has halted only one imminent execution, which occurred in 2018.
Reed still has several appeals pending, including with the U.S. Supreme Court. His supporters have held various rallies leading up to his execution, including an overnight vigil on Thursday in front of the Supreme Court in Washington. A rally in front of the Texas governor’s mansion is set for Sunday.
Reed has long maintained he didn’t kill Stites and that her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black.
Fennell’s attorney has said his client didn’t kill Stites. Fennell was paroled last year after serving time in prison for sexual assault.
Prosecutors say Reed’s semen was found in the victim, his claims of an affair with Stites were not proven at trial, Fennell was cleared as a suspect and Reed had a history of committing other sexual assaults.
Reed’s lawyers say his conviction was based on flawed evidence. They have denied the other sexual assault accusations made by prosecutors.
In recent weeks, Reed’s attorneys have presented affidavits in support of his claims of innocence, including one by a former prison inmate who claims Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur. Reed’s lawyers say other recent affidavits corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed and show that Fennell was violent and aggressive toward Stites.