Ever since its premiere in 1978, ABC’s ’20/20′ has been examining real-life cases with in-depth analysis and insightful interviews. This way, it has managed to not only become the channel’s primetime newsmagazine but also hold the distinction of one of the most esteemed programs when it comes to broadcast journalism. So, of course, all of its episodes, including ‘Rodney Reed on Death Row,’ which chronicles the murder of Stacey Stites and it’s subsequent investigations, hold a high standard. And now, if you’re here curious to know all the details about this particular case, then you’ve come to the right place.
How Did Stacey Stites Die?
Back in 1996, Stacey Stites, a recent graduate of Smithville High School, had moved to Giddings, Texas, with her mother and fiancé, local police officer Jimmy Fennell, to start a new life. She worked at the H-E-B in Bastrop and had just switched her shifts to the early morning one so that she could make some extra money for her May wedding. But unfortunately, it never happened. On April 23, when Stacey never showed up for work, her co-worker, worried, informed her family, who then reported her missing. That same morning, the truck that Stacey was driving to work in, her fiancé’s, was found parked outside a local school.
However, it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that anyone got an answer to what happened to Stacey. At 3:11 p.m., a 911 call came in to report an unidentified woman’s body in some bushes off a Bastrop road called Bluebonnet Lane, just behind the local school. And it was none other than Stacey. An autopsy determined that she was beaten, sodomized, and raped before being strangled to death with her own belt between 3 and 5 a.m. that morning. She was partially burned and found just in her bra and jeans, with her shirt tossed nearby. Her belt, on the other hand, was found in two parts, one near her body and one near the truck.
Who Killed Stacey Stites?
The local police department knew that they were out of their league in this case, so they immediately called the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety to take the lead. And the first thing that they noticed was that the driver’s seat was pushed back, as if someone taller had been driving. The seat belt was also still buckled. Along with that, there was what looked like saliva on the carpet, and a cup was found broken in the holder. After processing the truck, the police gave it back to Stacy’s fiancé, who sold it shortly after. Stacey’s mother also revealed that her daughter’s fiancé was supposed to drive her to work that day, which made him the prime suspect.
However, Jimmy clarified that the couple had changed their plans, so when Stacey had left that morning, he was asleep. But, in saying that, there are reports that suggest that he wasn’t thoroughly investigated as a suspect, especially as the officers did not even search the apartment where he and Stacey lived. Although, after months of no news, the investigators decided to do a DNA test, determining for sure that it wasn’t Jimmy’s sperm that was found inside or on Stacey’s body, clearing him for once and for all. In fact, they tested a total of 28 different DNA samples from men with whom Stacey was known to have a connection, but none of them resulted in a match.
A break in the case only came in November of the same year, when 19-year-old Linda Schlueter was attacked in a similar manner. Fortunately, though, she managed to escape her assailant and later identified him as Rodney Reed from a photo line-up. The police were familiar with him because of his previous arrests, including for a sexual assault and alleged rape of a woman with intellectual disabilities. With this, as they already had Rodney’s DNA on file, they thought of testing it against the evidence extracted from Stacey’s body. It was a match. And so, Rodney, who subsequently changed his story about knowing Stacey, was officially charged with her murder. In the end, he was tried and convicted of the same charge, getting sentenced to death. But the case didn’t end there. Soon, reports started coming out that DNA evidence wasn’t handled properly by police and that Reed might have been an easy target because of the color of his skin.
On November 15, 2019, after a massive public outcry for Rodney and his alleged innocence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals indefinitely stayed his execution. So today, even after 25 years, it is still unclear whether Rodney was the one who murdered Stacey.
Read More: Where Is Rodney Reed Now?