A top Texas appeals court on Friday granted a stay of execution for Rodney Reed, who was convicted of killing a woman more than two decades ago but has claimed the state presented false testimony against him and is innocent.
The halting of his execution came just hours after the Board of Pardon and Parole unanimously voted to recommend that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delay Reed's execution by 120 days. He was set to be executed next week by lethal injection.
The stay of execution means courts can once again review Reed’s allegations that the state suppressed evidence and provided false testimony, and that his trial counsel was ineffective
Abbott has repeatedly come under pressure to reconsider Reed’s execution. Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers appealed to the governor in a letter to halt the execution so new evidence could be examined. Sen. Ted Cruz has tweeted his support.
In a statement shared with BuzzFeed News, Bryce Benjet, Reed’s attorney with the Innocence Project, said they are "extremely relieved" by the court's decision.
“This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence,” he added.
Reed, who is black, was charged in 1996 with the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites, whom he has maintained he was having a consensual affair with. He was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Reed's lawyers allege that there are new witnesses to back up his claims.
The murder weapon, a belt, is also yet to be tested for DNA evidence.
In the past, prosecutors have argued that Reed has requested DNA testing on items “whose relevance to the crime is unknown."
Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz was unavailable for comment and the assistant district attorney, Matthew Ottoway, declined to comment.
At the time of her murder, Stites was engaged to Jimmy Fennell, a former police officer. Fennell spent 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and raping a woman in his custody in 2008.
A man who claimed to have been serving time in prison with Fennell, Arthur J. Snow, submitted an affidavit stating that Fennell said, "I had to kill my nigger-loving fiancé." Snow was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.
According to an affidavit released by the Innocence Project, a former police officer heard Fennell say “You got what you deserved” near Stites’ coffin.
Fennell’s lawyer, Bob Phillips told BuzzFeed News it was "preposterous that Jimmy Fennell would confess (to Snow) because it never happened." Fennell, he said, had "absolutely no motive to kill that girl."