Like heat hovering above Hill Country blacktop, questions permeate the case of Rodney Reed. He was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Giddings County store clerk Stacy Stites when his sperm was found in her body; however, as freshman filmmakers Frank Bustoz and Ryan Polomski posit in their documentary State vs. Reed, it was that sad Texas tradition of racism and police fraternity – aggravated by an inadequate defense – that put Reed on death row.
Reed and his family steadfastly maintain that he was Stites’ lover, yet his attorneys neglected to call any witnesses that could have confirmed it. Even more combustible elements coursed through the case: Stites was engaged to a quick-tempered Bastrop police officer, one who failed two polygraph tests denying her murder. Stites’ fiancé, (now-former) Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell Jr., was also given Stites’ truck, the vehicle that transported her body, before Reed’s team could examine it. (Reed’s fingerprints were never found at the crime scene – no evidence aside from his DNA was.)
Also, the unexpected death, ruled a suicide, of a Bastrop police officer calls Reed’s guilt deeper into doubt; initially an investigator, he too became a suspect. “What’s really going on in this case?” asks Polomski. “Is this really possible?” Beginning in 2003, Polomski and Bustoz amassed interviews with attorneys, investigators, journalists, and, during dozens of trips to Bastrop County, several of Reed’s relatives.
The filmmakers also traveled to Huntsville, where Reed sits on death row. Aside from being a voice for Reed, they see their film questioning the mechanisms of capital punishment, a machine operating with far too much efficiency and prejudice in Texas. “It came so fast, so hard, with so much force,” says Polomski of the avalanche against Reed. “It was inevitable.”