Supreme Court Rules for Rodney Reed in Texas Death Penalty Case


The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Rodney Reed’s federal lawsuit challenging Texas’s refusal to test critical DNA evidence in his case was filed on time.

Mr. Reed, who is Black, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Texas for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old white woman in 1998.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Mr. Reed must be the killer because he was matched to sperm taken from the victim’s body.

Mr. Reed, who was having an affair with the victim, insists he is innocent and points to evidence implicating the victim’s fiancé, a white police officer named Jimmy Fennell who claimed he didn’t know about the affair, The Intercept reports.

But according to his fellow law enforcement officers, Mr. Fennell did know about the affair and was furious that his fiancé was cheating on him with a Black man. And in 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman while he was on duty, according to The Intercept.

In 2014, Mr. Reed asked for DNA testing of the murder weapon and other evidence to identify the actual perpetrator.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Reed should not be allowed to test evidence for DNA unless he could prove there was DNA on the evidence—even though he could do that only by testing the evidence for DNA. The state court agreed and denied Mr. Reed’s request.

He appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which denied his appeal in April 2017 and denied his petition for rehearing in October 2017.

In August 2019, Mr. Reed filed a federal civil rights lawsuit arguing that Texas unconstitutionally barred him from testing evidence from the crime scene for DNA.

The State argued that the two-year statute of limitations for filing a federal claim started running when the trial court rejected Mr. Reed’s request for DNA testing in 2014, and therefore his federal complaint was filed too late. The federal trial court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The Supreme Court took up the question of when the statute of limitations begins to run for filing a federal suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after an incarcerated person’s request for DNA testing fails.

In a brief decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the six-justice majority rejected the Fifth Circuit’s rule that the time begins to run when the state trial court denied DNA testing.

The Court concluded that the statute of limitations begins to run at the end of the state court litigation denying DNA testing, including the state court appeal.

Therefore, it held Mr. Reed’s federal suit was timely filed.