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Rodney Reed's lawyers file to overturn conviction after new witnesses come forward

New evidence may save death row inmate

Attorneys for Rodney Reed have filed new legal documents asking that Reed's conviction and death sentence be overturned based on the testimony of seven new witnesses. Reed, now 51, is scheduled to be executed on November 20 for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, but the new witnesses are pointing the finger at Stites's then-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, who was never charged in the death. 

Reed was arrested after his DNA was discovered inside Stites' body. In 1998, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Reed, who is black, maintained his innocence and claimed he was having an affair with Stites.

Three witness accounts had been reported on in recent weeks but none had been filed in court until now. Monday's filing with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also included testimony from four more witnesses who came forward in the last few days, all of whom characterize Stites and Fennell's relationship as abusive. 

One of the witnesses, Richard Derleth, who worked with Fennell at the Bastrop County Sheriff's office, said in court papers he would sometimes see Stites at the local grocery store where she worked. He claims that one time other employees at the grocery store told him they would often be on the lookout for Fennell and would warn Stites if they saw him coming. They said this would cause Stites to "run and hide from Jimmy."

The son and daughter-in-law of the man who lived in the apartment beneath Stites also testified that they heard loud arguing and banging sounds coming from Stites's apartment. Brent and Vicki Sappington also said their father, William, was concerned about the way Fennell was treating Stites.

A former coworker of Stites, Rebecca Peoples, claims in her affidavit that Stites confided that she was afraid of Fennell, who was her fiancé at the time. Stites also told Peoples she was having an affair with a black man, according to her sworn testimony. Arthur Snow, a leader in the Aryan Brotherhood who met Fennell in prison, previously claimed that Fennell admitted to him he had murdered Stites and was mad at her for sleeping with a black man.

Oprah urges Texas governor to "take a pause" and look at Rodney Reed death row case

"These are not people coming out of the woodwork," said Bryce Benjet, Reed's attorney and a lawyer with the Innocence Project. "They are police officers, verified co-workers of the victim, and her neighbors. These people have nothing to gain by telling us what they know; and what we have learned corroborates Mr. Reed's relationship with Ms. Stites and further implicates Jimmy Fennell in the murder."

Fennell has denied involvement in the murder. In a statement to CBS News, his lawyer, Bob Phillips, questioned why the new witnesses are just now coming forward in support of Reed, and he also brought up past assault allegations against him, including a 1987 rape in which he was acquitted. 

"The real travesty of justice in this Hail Mary, desperate push by Reed's very creative legal team is that the press, public and even some gullible politicians have become utterly entranced by smoke and mirrors, while the cold hard facts of Reed's horrific and bloody legacy of rape, sodomy and lies seem to fade into the mist of history," Phillips said. 

Reed has gained support from lawmakers and celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna. More than 480,000 have signed a Change.org petition urging officials to halt the execution.

Erin Donaghue contributed to this report. 

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