This story is local to me and there is so much controversy surrounding it, I decided to looker deeper into the case back in October 2019. I did a podcast on it and while preparing for that podcast, I drove to the location of where Stacey was killed. Shorty, after the podcast, Stacey Stites story became national news as Rodney Reed’s date of execution was near and the Innocent Project was fighting for, at the very least, a stay of execution. The following story will give you the background on the Stacey Stites case and my meeting with Rodney Reed’s mom, Sandra, along with my findings on her work schedule, that doesn’t make sense.
Go to below paragraph “Driving to the Scene” to see the raw video of us going to the location where Stacey’s body was found and where the truck was found.
Stacey Lee Stites, 19, who lived in Giddings, Texas with her fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, Jr. was found on April 23, 1996 in the tall grass near a gravel road near the Loblolly trees just outside the Lost Pines Park. She had been murdered.
Her sneaker was missing and the other sneaker was found in a red truck parked near Bastrop High School at 5:23 a.m. on April 23. Earlier that morning, Stacey had left home driving that truck that belong to Jimmy to head to work at the HEB in Bastrop. Part of a black-braided belt was found at the scene and the other part was found outside the same red truck. It was determined the belt was used to strangle her.
Early on, Jimmy, who worked for the Giddings Police Dept. was a suspect, but the authorities could never determine how he could have driven from Giddings to Bastrop (see map) and back home again to commit the crime, and he was cleared, even though he had failed two polygraph tests. The red truck was released to him, after the authorities processed it, and he sold the truck later. The family had the memorial for Stacey, burying her in the white wedding dress she had on layaway.
The murder remained unsolved for a year, until a detective decided to run a man’s DNA to the DNA recovered from Stacey’s body. The man’s name was Rodney Reed whom had been arrested following a sexual assault that seemed similar to Stacey’s case. Reed’s DNA was already stored in the system and the test showed a match to the DNA recovered for Stacey’s body.
It was — from a separate, earlier sex assault complaint against Reed. His DNA had been collected and stored in the system.
Reed was interviewed and he stated he did not know Stacey Stites. When he heard there was a DNA match, the story changed and he said he did know her and they had been meeting up with each other, and he had last seen her two days before she was found murdered. He also stated that because of racism in the south, he was afraid of admitting he was having a secret affair with Stacey, especially since she was dating a cop, and that is why he said he didn’t know her at first.
There were two sides in his case. The side that believes that Stacey and Rodney never knew each other, like the police and Stacey’s family, and the side that believes that Stacey and Rodney had a relationship, like several witness that saw them together and Rodney’s family that told me they saw Stacey show up at Rodney’s mom’s house.
After the trial, and especially recently, one side brings up Rodney’s past and charges of raping a 12-year-old girl and a woman, and the other side brings up he was acquitted on one case and another the charges were dropped. But, the strength of the side that felt he was railroaded, has became louder and stronger as his execution date neared, with celebrities, like Kim Kardashian West, and Oprah Winfrey speaking up.
The prosecution was adamant about the DNA (semen) that was found inside Stacey. An expert testified that Rodney and Stacey had been together before she was found murdered Years later, the expert stated publicly that they never pronounced a time line when Stacey and Rodney were together, and it was not as narrow of a time line as prosecution stated. Science states that semen can stay with a woman up to five days. This brings doubt to the prosecutions claim that it had to be Rodney, because of the DNA.
The prosecution also brought forward women who Rodney allegedly raped to testify. “Schlueter, a 12- year old girl, the intellectually disabled woman, and a woman named Vivian Harbottle to testify against him in the penalty phase, reports KVUE.
The defense had witnesses they planned to speak at the trial to state they were with Rodney that evening, but those witnesses were never given a chance to speak.
After the trial, Rodney Reed was convicted of Stacey Stites murder in 1998.
Driving to the scene
I decided to drive to the route from where Stacey’s body was found to where the truck was found. I knew the street name but not the exact location but after going up and down the road I settled on a spot near the loblolly’s. BlueBonnet Dr. went around like a horseshoe, so there was two ways in or out of it. It would have been easy to drop a body and drive around to the other side without anyone seeing you.
The next location was where the truck was found at the high school. When I got on Cedar, my stomach tightened as I saw the railroad tracks. I knew Rodney was known to walk the tracks to get to and fro from his mom’s home where he was living at the time. The truck had been left only a few feet from the track that led straight to Rodney’s mom’s house.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Rodney did it. It could also mean that someone else knew of Rodney’s habits and parked it there to frame him.
My next stop was Rodney’s mom, Sandra’s house. I knocked on the door, explained who I was and she welcomed me in. The TV volume was loud as I leaned into her voice to listen to her talk about Rodney. While there, several people came and went, and Sandra introduced me every time. Rodney’s uncle seemed intent on having his say and told me that Jimmy Fennell was a preacher in Round Rock now. I hoped to track him down, afterwards, but was not able to.
Rodney’s uncle, also told me several times that he had seen Stacey in the truck when she would come by the house to pick up Rodney. It was as though he wanted me to have no doubt that the two were in a relationship. Rodney’s brother also stated he had seen Rodney talking with Stacey while she was in her truck.
Below is one of the tee shirts Sandra had made.
Later, I read a statement from a witness that has not been mentioned, and in particular, the 20/20 story that was aired on December 11, 2020. The witness stated she saw two people arguing in the truck parked at a small store on Chestnut. She was sure it was Jimmy and Stacey she had seen that night. The time was 4:30 in the morning, past the time Stacey would have had to be a work. And remember Jimmy stated that Stacey had already gone on to work at 3 a.m. that morning. The only way that this could have been Jimmy and Stacey would be if Jimmy drove her to work and because of an argument, Stacey never got to work, but ended up at the store on Chestnut. But, that would leave only a narrow margin of time, for the body to have been driven to Bluebonnet Dr. and the truck brought back to the high school and Jimmy make his way back to Giddings.
What is truly interesting about this case is that for every theory you bring up, there is a counter to it.
I began to think maybe Jimmy had murdered Stacey in the home and then carried her out of the house. Stacey’s mother who lived in the same complex as Jimmy and Stacey stated she had heard someone go down the stairs. Could Stacey’s death been earlier that evening and Jimmy decided to carrying her from the apartment in his truck and leave her near Lost Pines and then leave the truck near the school, that was close to where she worked. If so, how did he get back home to Giddings? Did someone give him a ride? We will never know now as the person that would have known, a close friend and co worker of Jimmy’s that was also on the police force, committed suicide.
One Glaring Detail
What stands out to me the most is what time Stacey left Giddings. Jimmy said she left at 3 a.m. Cutting it close but, even with little traffic she would not have gotten there on time. So, with that, how would she be able to meet up with Rodney before work? There was not enough time for her to do that? So, this 30 minutes to go from Giddings to HEB just does not fit right. One thing about Texas if it says 30 minutes it’s usually 45 minutes or more, because driving from one area to another is not always a highway. There are many, many roads that are a combination of speed limits of 70 MPH to 35 MPH as you enter into the city.
I have never heard from an HEB manager or coworker come right out and say that Stacey’s shift started at 3:30 a.m. Is it possible that Stacey’s shift was actually later and she was just telling Jimmy it was at 3:30 a.m.? So, I looked up HEB shifts. The first thing I noticed was there was no shifts starting at the half-hour. Meaning every shift started at the top of the hour. I heard that Stacey worked in the Produce Dept. and thought that might be why she needed to be there so early, but after checking on it I found in the bakery dept. shifts starting at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Part time employees seemed to have a more varied shift, regardless, the 3:30 a.m. shift times just seems odd, and I believe it’s likely misinformation that has never been corrected. Is it possible that Stacey’s shift was actually later. If her shift actually started at 4 or even 5, then the above theories I mentioned before make sense. Jimmy could have taken her to work, and they were seen at the small store on Chestnut. Or the other theory, Stacey was meeting up with Rodney before she was to go to work and Stacey was just telling Jimmy her shift started at 3:30 so she could leave and go meet up with Rodney. If you are having a secret affair, this is exactly the kind of thing you would do.
Then there is the time when the truck was found. Remember the detectives stated Jimmy didn’t have time to get to Giddings and back? What if he did drive Stacey to work, then he would have already been in Bastrop and maybe it really was them, the witness saw at the store on Chestnut. But, one thing doesn’t make sense. Why drive back to Bastrop in the opposite direction of where you live, after dumping a body?
What we do know is someone drove Jimmy’s truck to Lost Pines from an unknown place and direction and left Stacey’s body and then drove the truck to Bastrop High School and left it there to be found at 5:30 in the morning.
My Opinion on the Time
So, in my personal opinion, if we are to adhere to Jimmy’s story, Stacey left Giddings at 3 a.m. She would have gotten to Bastrop around 3:45. Already late for her 3:30 shift. This is why I contend that her shift had to have been at 4 or even 5. If she was planning on meeting Rodney it would have had to have been a 5 a.m. shift, because 4 a.m. was calling it to short.
Please note that in an Appeal in 2014, the following was stated:
If the time is based on information given to investigators from a store manager, then I would say it is accurate and it would mean that Stacey would have been late to work. But, there is nothing here that states where the 3:30 a.m. time came from. If it is information that is repeated from Fennell that Stacey told him, then, as I said before, she could have lied to him about that time.
Then I ran across this information in the Statesman:
Regardless of an Appeals that states 3:30 a.m she started work, and numerous media articles that stated the same, the Statesman is saying it was a 4 a.m. I believe that this has to be the accurate time she was suppose to be there and her leaving at 3 a.m. to get there at that time, would put her there about 15 minutes early. Time enough for her to change, etc.
It is very disconcerting that attorneys would have this time wrong and present it to the courts as correct. It is one thing for the media to repeat the wrong information but entirely another for attorney’s to.
Also, in that same Appeal, it stated that time of death for Stacey was 3 a.m. (her body was found at 3:00 p.m. that day) Jimmy stated that Stacey LEFT their apartment at 3 a.m. How could she had died at that time, if she’s leaving their apartment at that time? Who is right and who is wrong?
So, breaking it down, if she started work at 3:30 by the time she came in to town she was already 15 minutes late. If she was to be there at 4 a.m. then she was 15 minutes early. By the time she got out of her car and walked across the parking lot, she would be right on time for her shift. BUT, if she didn’t have to be there till 5 a.m., then she would be about 90 minutes early. Time enough to meet up with someone. Knowing what her actually schedule was is an important detail in this case. You can pretty much figure out if she planned on meeting up with anyone, just by knowing what time she was suppose to be at work that morning. So, if the Statesman is correct and it WAS a 4 a.m. shift. There would have been no time for Stacey to meet anyone before work.
Two of the times did not allow her enough time to do anything but leave home and drive straight to work. Unless there was someone waiting in the parking lot for her as she was getting out of the car, there would be no time for her to stop on the way or meet up with anyone. It is possible that someone had been watching her for weeks and knew her schedule and waiting for her to drive up that fateful morning. They got into her car by force before she even has a chance to get out? Sure, it’s a possibility and this is how abductions are done. But, if her schedule didn’t start till 5 a.m., then there is 90 minutes of time, that she could have stopped anywhere, met up with anyone after 3:30 in the morning, and no one would be the wiser.
Just recently another name has been brought up, David Lawhon. On Rodney Reed’s Twitter account he show where Lawhon is in jail for after being convicted of murdering Mary Ann Arldt.
According to a post on the Twitter account,#FreeRodneyReed:
“If the Prosecutors and Rodney’s State Appointed attorneys didn’t hide important elements of Stacey’s personal life, like her affair with convicted murderer, David Lawhon, who was much older (and married), would the jury have seen things differently?”
So, I wanted look for more details on Mary Ann.
Mary Ann Ardlt was murdered on May 3, 1996 in Bastrop, 10 days after Stacey was killed. She had been strangled and then raped on the back of a pickup. According to the Statesman, David Alan Lawhon, 23, from Bastrop confessed and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Two boys were with him during this crime. One boy swore in a statement given to authorities that Lawhon said just after the killing “I did the girl in Bastrop, too.”
Although there are similarities with the murders, there are also not. Mary Ann was strangled with Lawhon’s hands and not a belt like Stacey was. Also, Lawhon’s own mother found an earring in Lawhon’s bedroom. It was identified as belonging to Mary Ann.
Several defense witnesses have testified that Stites knew Lawhon. On
Thursday, Cynthia Jones said she saw them together at the 1995 Smithville
Jamboree and that Lawhon introduced Stites as “his girl.” Prosecutors later called two of Stites’ friends to the stand to testify that Stites had never mentioned Lawhon. One of the women said she was with Stites
on one night of the 1995 Jamboree and Stites met Fennell the next night. The state also called Lawhon’s ex-wife, Alicia Miller, who said Lawhon told
her he didn’t know Stites.
So, if you are leaning towards Lawhon as Stacey’s killer, then you have to believe that Stacey knew him, because it is unlikely that he randomly jumped into the truck that early morning.
And then we have this from the Court of Appeals:
Is your mind about to explode? Yes, I get it. But, don’t forget that the time that Stacey was to report to work was likely wrong. So, is this above information wrong, too?
Where is Jimmy Fennell now?
Fennell, 45, went to prison for raping a woman in his custody in 2007, when he was a Georgetown police officer. Fennell was approved for parole on Feb. 23, 2018.
There has also been rumors that Jimmy Fennell may be connected to the disappearance of Rachel Cooke that went missing while Fennell was working at the Georgetown Police Dept. Read more about that here.
Where is Rodney Reed now?
Reed had been scheduled to be executed in November 2019. There was much national attention brought to this case. Eventually, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution five days before and remanded his case back to the Bastrop County district court to review new evidence that Reed’s legal team says will prove his innocence. Rodney Reed had his execution date stayed, and is on death row in appeal hearing on May 17 in the 21st District Court in Bastrop County, according to court records.
The family and supporters of Rodney Reed have continued to rally for Rodney at Austin’s capital and Bastrop Court house, and ask that Stacey’s belt be tested for DNA, as it never was. (The belt is what was used to strangle Stacey to death.) They fully believe it will show none of Rodney’s DNA on it and it will exonerate him.
Who do you think is the murderer of Stacey Stites? Leave your comment below.