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15 days away from execution, a Texas death row inmate's innocence has become an international cause

Celebrities from Kim Kardashian West to Rihanna have called on Texas' governor to halt Rodney Reed's execution.

Rodney Reed was sentenced to die more than 20 years ago, convicted in a rural Texas county of strangling a 20-year-old woman to death during a sexual assault.

His family, and a rapidly mushrooming movement attracting celebrities and high-profile activists, say he's innocent and are trying to save him from being put to death. With 15 days until his scheduled execution on Nov. 20, the urgency of their fight is gaining attention all over the world .

Having spent two decades behind bars, Rodney Reed's story is suddenly spreading far beyond the Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility where he sits on death row, about 80 miles north of Houston. Celebrities from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill to Dr. Phil, are joining the movement to free Rodney Reed. 

While authorities say DNA taken from the crime scene in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites points to Reed, the now 51-year-old has always maintained his innocence. Just last week, the Innocence Project filed for his clemency, saying "Texas is frighteningly close to executing an innocent man."

See the petition: More than one million people have asked for a stay of Rodney Reed's execution

Reed's defense team says new evidence exonerates him and implicates Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell. The team claims Reed and Stites were having a consensual relationship, and new witnesses, including a cousin of Stites, have come forward to say they were aware of it.

Innocent Project lawyers also say Fennell, a former police officer who was previously jailed for rape and abduction, allegedly confessed to the murder to a friend in prison.

In an affidavit, they say the other inmate claims Fennell killed Stites because she was having an affair with a black man.

Fennell served 10 years in the other abduction and rape case and was released in March last year.

Additionally, the Innocence Project says three forensic experts have submitted affidavits recanting their original testimony, saying the time of death is inaccurate - making the timeline implausible for Reed to have killed Stites.

The group also says Reed has repeatedly been denied DNA testing that could prove his innocence. The group further claims Reed's trial was flawed and racially charged, with an all-white jury deciding the case and the murder weapon never being tested for DNA.

Those details, now spreading through media coverage, have drawn the backing of celebrities like Kardashian West appealing to Texas Governor Greg Abbott..

Rihanna has also called for people to sign a petition, and many online have used the hashtag #FreeRodney reed to show their support. Right now more than a million people have signed an online petition to stop his execution.

An attorney for Stites' former fiance Fennell still disputes that Reed might be innocent - he has said that his client was not involved in her killing and was devastated by her death. As for Stites' family, in a recent interview with 11Alive's sister station in Austin, KVUE, her sister said she doesn't believe Fennell was the killer.

She said the renewed attention has been hard on the family, and that her sister gets lost in the story, left without a voice.


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