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Supreme Court to Review Rodney Reed’s DNA Appeal

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Columns of the Supreme Court building | Image by Dan Thornberg

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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Rodney Reed, a Texas death row inmate seeking DNA testing of evidence.

Reed was convicted of capital murder in 1998 for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Lee Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Stites had been raped, strangled, and left for dead on her way to work at a supermarket on April 23, 1996. About a year later, Reed was linked to the murder when a DNA test on sperm cells found inside Stites’ body matched Reed’s DNA.

Prosecutors said that Reed stopped Stites as she was headed to work before sexually assaulting and killing her. Reed, on the other hand, said that he and Stites were having an affair and had had consensual sex the day before she disappeared. He has consistently maintained his innocence.

Reed and his attorneys requested DNA testing of pieces of crime scene evidence, including the murder weapon, which a medical examiner determined was Stites’ belt. Reed, now 54 years old, wants the belt to be tested for DNA as he believes it is key to proving his innocence.

Texas law allows inmates to pursue post-conviction DNA testing of biological materials under certain conditions. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Reed’s testing requests, ruling that the statute of limitations on seeking DNA testing of evidence in his case had expired.

According to the Austin American Statesman, Reed took his case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. However, the court denied his request for a review of the Texas court’s decision.

According to the appeal court, Reed’s claim is “time-barred,” as he should have come forward with the claim when he became aware that his right had been violated in 2014 at the State District Court level.

In a bid to challenge the constitutionality of the Texas DNA testing statute, Reed and his lawyers turned to the Supreme Court, which has now agreed to consider Reed’s appeal of the federal court’s decision.

This hearing could open the door for Reed’s request, as the court will decide when the statute of limitations for DNA testing starts – after the state trial court denies testing or after litigation (including appeal) ends.

According to CBS News, University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck said that the court’s decision in the case could set a precedent for similar cases when it comes to DNA testing.

Vladeck noted the case could impact prisoners in areas such as Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where current legislation “makes it exceedingly difficult to bring such claims.”

The date of the Supreme Court hearing is not known at this time.      

Reed was initially scheduled for execution in 2019. However, the execution was suspended indefinitely after national calls for further review of his conviction. Lawmakers, religious leaders, and celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian were among those who called for Reed’s death penalty to be delayed.

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