Supreme Court lets Texas death row inmate pursue DNA lawsuit

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The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (IL file photo)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that longtime Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed should have a chance to argue for testing of crime-scene evidence that he says will help clear him.

The justices, in a 6-3 decision, sent Reed’s case back to a lower court for his constitutional challenge to the state’s law on DNA testing.

The issue before the high court was whether Reed, sentenced to death nearly 25 years ago, waited too long to file his lawsuit claiming that untested crime-scene evidence would exonerate him. Texas courts and the federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled that he missed the deadline.

But the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reversed the appellate ruling.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented. “If there is a mitigating factor to today’s decision,” Thomas wrote, it’s that the outcome “is no barrier to the prompt execution of Reed’s lawful sentence.”

Reed was sentenced to death for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Austin.

Reed has long maintained that Stites’ fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is Black. Fennell, who served time for sexual assault and was released from prison in 2018, has denied killing Stites.

Reed has attracted support from around the world, including from Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey, as well as lawmakers from both parties.

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