The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a ruling Friday blocking the execution of inmate Rodney Reed.
The move comes hours after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended delaying Reed's execution date, after his conviction was questioned by new evidence that his supporters say raises serious doubts about his guilt.
The parole board had unanimously recommended a 120-day reprieve for Reed, but the court's ruling makes that decision moot.
The board's recommendation was headed to Gov. Greg Abbott. It was unclear if Abbott, a Republican, planned to take any action. The governor, who appoints the seven-member parole board, has been tight-lipped about the case.
Reed has spent the last 21 years on death row for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, and he was scheduled to be executed next week.
"I know that I'm innocent," said Reed.
Reed's family and legal team say new evidence in the case exonerates him.
"Anyone who examines that evidence, we think they will come to the conclusion that Reed is innocent, or there are far too many questions," said Quincy McNeals, one of Reed's lawyers.
At TSU's Thurgood Marshall School of Law, there was a last-minute push to present his case and get more people to hear his story on Tuesday. His brother, Rodrick Reed, was there. Rodrick says he spoke to his brother two weeks ago.
"My brother is very optimistic. Of course, he's scared because this is reality, but he's feeling hopeful about the chance to exonerate him," Rodrick said.
Rodney has gained support from celebrities like Dr. Phil, Oprah and Kim Kardashian West. His family continues to fight for his freedom every minute they get.
"We are just trying to gain more support. We have over 3 million signatures, over 300,000 faith leaders," said Rodrick.
Rodrick says this has been a very trying, stressful and life-changing ordeal.
"We got in this situation solely trying to prove my brother's innocence, trying to get him home, but we have realized over the years that there was 1,000 more Reeds out just like this," Rodrick said.
Reed, who is black, was convicted of Stites' murder in 1998 and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz said Reed has exhausted his option to appeal the case after appealing repeatedly from 2001 through 2015.
"None of them look like me but I grew up in the military. I was a military brat. I figured that they would hear the evidence and know that I'm innocent," Reed told ABC News. "Race played a big part. I didn't see it at first. I wasn't seeing racism like that."
The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to free wrongly convicted people, picked up Reed's case in 2001. Bryce Benjet, senior attorney at the Innocence Project, is representing Reed.
Benjet's team maintains that Reed and Stites were having a consensual sexual relationship while she was engaged to her fiancé, a former police officer named Jimmy Fennell. They argue that this explains why Reed's DNA matched the semen found in Stites' body.
"We had a relationship," Reed said. "She wasn't going to marry Jimmy ... I don't think she loved him."
During the 1997 trial, the prosecution argued that this evidence showed that Reed raped Stites, and it ultimately led to his conviction.
The Innocence Project has filed a number of motions to test DNA evidence collected at the crime scene.
"So we're asking for DNA testing because it is a clear path where you can find additional evidence in this case. And the obvious thing that you would want to test is the belt, because that was the item used to strangle the victim. It was held in the hands of the murderer and that's very likely to have the DNA from the murderer," Benjet explained.
Reed's defense team filed a federal lawsuit in August arguing that Reed's civil rights have been violated because prosecutors and the state courts have repeatedly denied his DNA testing requests.
The Innocence Project alleges that Fennell told another police officer that he would kill Stites if he ever caught her cheating.
Sergeant Mary Blackwell testified that Fennell made the comment while they were in police training together.
"Jimmy Fennell was having a conversation with another classmate that sat near him," Blackwell said. "He made a comment that if he ever found that his girlfriend was cheating on him that he would strangle her. And I looked over my shoulder at him and said, 'Well, if you do that they'll find four fingerprints all over her throat.' And he said, 'That's where you don't know...I'll strangle her with a belt.'"
In 2017, the Texas Court of Appeals rejected Reed's request for court-ordered DNA testing, citing issues with possible cross contamination in storage. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Reed's request to review the Texas court's ruling.
COURTESY ABC30 FRESNO