Woman says man on death row for killing her cousin is innocent

AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE/CNN) - A murder victim’s cousin says the man convicted in the case is innocent.

Rodney Reed is convicted of murder in the death of Stacey Stites, but the victims cousin, Heather Stobbs, says Reed is innocent. (Source: KEYE via CNN)

Rodney Reed is scheduled to be executed Nov. 20 for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. She was raped and strangled to death.

Reed has been in custody ever since.

For years, Heather Stobbs has questioned the investigation into her cousin's murder.

Two decades after Stites' death and three weeks until Reed's execution, Stobbs is speaking up.

"I think Rodney Reed is innocent,” Stobbs said.

It's what Reed himself told KEYE from prison in 2013.

“You never killed Stacey,” a reporter said during the 2013 interview.

"No. No. Not at all,” Reed said.

Today, Stobbs doesn't speak for the entire family, but she says she’s doing what she believes is right.

Stites' mother and sisters vocally support Reed's conviction.

“I think it's about time people stopped trying to defend Rodney Reed and look at Rodney Reed for who he is,” Carol Stites, the mother of the victim, said in a courtroom in 2017.

Among the evidence of Reed’s innocence: A newly-released sworn affidavit from a man who served prison time with Stacey Stite’s fiance, Jimmy Fennell, who was also an officer. That man said Fennell confessed to the murder of Stacey Stites during a conversation they had.

According to the document, Fennell was in prison for kidnapping and raping a woman in his custody.

The murder devastated and divided a family for 23 years; Longer than 19-year-old Stacey Stites was alive.

“There's some of us that feel he that should have a new trial. There's some others that feel he should be completely exonerated, but for the most part, most of us agree that he got a raw deal the first time,” Stobbs said.

Stobbs says she's never spoken to Reed in person.

The case cuts so deep she can no longer talk to some members of her own family.

"Are you worried what your aunt or cousins think about you taking the opposite side?" a reporter asked Stobbs.

"No. I'm past that,” Stobbs replied.

Stobbs says she's prayed for guidance and looked for signs that she got this all wrong.

Right now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has the power to halt Reed's death sentence.

KEYE has reached out to his office multiple times for comment. So far he's remained silent, but Stobbs is using her voice.

"I think that it validates the people that believe he's innocent a little bit for someone who's a member of her family and it's not just me, there are several cousins who believe the same thing,” Stobbs said.

Reed’s supporters plan to host a rally outside the Texas state Capitol this Saturday.

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