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Supreme Court to review Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed's plea for DNA evidence testing

The justices will determine when the statute of limitations begins when a prisoner attempts to seek DNA tests on the crime scene evidence in their case.

BASTROP, Texas — The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is reviewing the Rodney Reed case.

According to the Supreme Court of the U.S., the court has agreed to look at Reed's case to consider a conflict in lower court decisions over when the statute of limitations begins when a prisoner attempts to seek DNA tests on the crime scene evidence in their case.

The Texas death row inmate is asking that DNA tests be conducted on a belt that he is accused of using to strangle Stacey Stites in 1996. He also wants other evidence found at the scene of the crime tested for DNA because his attorneys say tests were never done on the items.

Prosecutors oppose testing the evidence because they were handled by different people during the investigation and stored improperly.

In a decision issued Monday, April 25, the SCOTUS requested the case records from the lower courts so that justices can review and decide whether or not to hear Reed's DNA testing plea.

Reed's request for the SCOTUS to consider the issue refers to Skinner v. Switzer, which ruled that a prisoner may pursue claims for DNA testing post-conviction "to show that the governing state law denies him procedural due process” after he has unsuccessfully sought DNA testing under available state procedures. 

Specifically, the SCOTUS is reviewing when the statute of limitations begins in such a case. The justices will look at whether it begins at the end of state-court litigation denying DNA testing, including any appeals, or whether it begins to run at the moment the state trial court denies DNA testing, despite any subsequent appeal.

In 1998, Reed was convicted of the 1996 abduction, rape and murder of 19-year-old Stites.

Days before Reed was set to be executed, he was granted a stay. Last year, a judge recommended that the Court of Criminal Appeals deny granting Reed a new trial. 

In December 2021, attorneys in the case filed a request for grant of application for writ of habeas corpus, claiming prosecutors in the 1998 trial hid statements from Stites' co-workers showing that Reed and Stites knew each other and were romantically involved. 

The Innocence Project released the following statement Monday:

"Rodney Reed has steadfastly maintained his innocence for more than 20 years, and a substantial body of evidence has emerged supporting his innocence. Mr. Reed, who is Black, was convicted in 1998 by an all-white Texas jury of the murder of Stacey Stites, who is white. Among other things, new evidence of innocence points to Stites’ white fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, as the perpetrator. But Texas and the Texas courts have refused to allow DNA testing of key crime-scene evidence, including the ligature handled by the perpetrator in the commission of the crime. And when Mr. Reed sought access to DNA testing in federal court, the federal courts wrongly threw out his claims as untimely, reasoning that he could have started his federal action while the state-court proceedings were still pending. We look forward to having the Supreme Court consider our arguments."

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