4 Prisoners Facing Executions or Serving Extreme Jail Sentences Who Very Well May Be Innocent
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"This theory of the crime was deduced, theorized, and then presented at trial from a single piece of evidence: the match of Reed's DNA."
There was no other physical evidence linking him to the crime. Nevertheless, Reed was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Yet there was one critical twist in the case: Rodney Reed, many said, was having an affair with the engaged Stites. That would make their sexual relationship consensual, explaining the semen found in her body.
Stites's fiancee, Jimmy Fennell, was a police officer in Giddings. At trial, Reed's defense attorneys tried, unsuccessfully, to show that it was Fennell who killed Stites, in a fit of rage over her affair with Reed. According to the Chronicle, "Court records show 10 other people were publicly identified as witnesses to the affair either during the trial or by affidavit." 'Everyone knew,' [Austin attorney Jimmy Brown] said. 'The people who worked with her knew; they confirmed it unofficially. None would come out with it, because we are talking about a white woman who was having sex with a black man in Bastrop -- and then she's dead. But there is no question they knew about it.'"
There were other reasons to suspect Jimmy Fennell. Not the least of which was the fact that, upon being brought in to answer questions about his murdered fiance, he failed two polygraph tests when asked question: "Did you strangle Stacey Stites?" Yet no further investigation into him ever went forward. The pickup truck that Stites was driving was returned to him soon after the murder, after an incomplete forensics investigation. Fennell then sold the truck, the very next day.
Over the years, alarming new pieces of evidence have surfaced. In March 2006, with Reed on death row, a former police academy classmate of Fennell's testified in District Court that Fennell once told him he would choke his girlfriend to death with a belt if she cheated on him.
Fennell had a reputation for his explosive anger and violence against women, one that would culminate in an indictment against him, in December 2007, for the rape and kidnapping of a woman who he took into custody while on duty with the Georgetown Police Department.. Last September, he pled guilty to the charges rather than facing trial and was sentenced to ten years.
That same month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Reed's latest appeal. As the Austin Chronicle pointed out, the ruling affirmed an earlier decision by Bastrop County Judge Reva Towslee Corbett, who happened to be the daughter of the judge in Reed's original trial. Not surprisingly, Corbett saw no proof that that state had done anything wrong in sentencing him to death.
Rodney Reed has been waiting to die for almost ten years. If the courts continue to rubber stamp his conviction, it will only be a matter of time before he finds himself facing an execution date for a crime he almost certainly did not commit.
To learn more about the case of Rodney Reed, go here.
Efrén Paredes, Jr.
In 1989, Efrén Paredes, Jr was just 15, a Latino honors student in a small Michigan town, when he was accused of an unlikely murder: the killing of his boss, Rick Tetzlaff, the 28-year-old assistant manager at Roger's Vineland Foodland in St. Joseph, Michigan. Paredes worked part time bagging groceries; that night, he had been asked to cover a shift and then agreed to stay late to help Tetzlaff with some chores. Tetzlaff offered to give Paredes a ride home so that he would be home by 9:30, at his mother's request. Later that night, Tetzlaff was shot dead in the store, the victim of a robbery and grisly "thrill kill," according to prosecutors, who singled out Paredes as the murderer.