Stacey Stites was 19 years old and weeks from her wedding day when she failed to show for her early-morning shift at a grocery store in a small Texas town on April 23, 1996. Her partially clothed body was found the same day in the tangled brush alongside an unpaved road, her work name tag resting in the crook of her leg.
Twenty-three years later, the state of Texas is preparing to execute the man convicted of raping and strangling the soon-to-be-bride. Rodney Reed, 51, has been in prison since 1998 and was moved to death row over the summer. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20.
But in an eleventh-hour bid to spare Reed’s life, his lawyers at the Innocence Project have filed court papers claiming someone else admitted responsibility for killing Stites: her police officer fiance, Jimmy Fennell, who was outraged she was having an affair with Reed, a black man. The confession was allegedly made to a prison inmate while Fennell was serving time for sexually assaulting a woman while on duty in 2007. It is, the Innocence Project attorneys say, merely the latest development pointing to Reed’s innocence and Fennell’s guilt