By Michael Corcoran
“After he raped me, he had this look in his eyes like he wanted to kill me,” says Vivian Harbottle. “I begged him for my life. I told him that I had three kids… He just kept staring at me. I was crying ‘please don’t kill me’ and then he finally left.”
A DNA match would tell Harbottle, a year and a half later (May 1997), that the man who sexually assaulted her near the railroad tracks in Bastrop was Rodney Reed, who is currently on death row for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites. The 19-year-old HEB cashier was killed April 23, 1996, six months after the Harbottle assault.
“I’m no angel,” says Harbottle, 56, who has had three DWI convictions and an assault charge after a bar fight. “But that man raped me.” She says she decided to do her first interview about the October 1995 incident because “no one is speaking up for the victims. No one is saying what a dirtbag Reed is. Everything is getting twisted around.”
Reed supporters celebrated a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in February, just ten days before his March 5 date with the lethal injection in Huntsville. Amid much controversy, claims of Reed’s innocence, and charges of racism, the CCA is reviewing the case. Reed’s defense team points to Stites’ ex-boyfriend, former Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell, as the likely perpetrator, after Fennell pled guilty in 2008 of sexually assaulting a woman in custody while on duty in Georgetown.
But Harbottle says there’s no doubt in her mind that Reed is guilty. Six months after the Stites murder he was involved in another kipnapping and attempted sexual assault, but that victim escaped. “I don’t feel so bad for me,” she says. “I feel really bad for Stacey. If we were able to pin (the Harbottle rape) on Reed, she might still be alive.”
Harbottle was intoxicated the night she was raped, she admits. After a night of partying at Ray’s Place on Chestnut Street, where she used to work as a bartender, Harbottle started walking to her stepson’s house via the railroad tracks behind the bar. “Reed just came out of nowhere,” she says. They sat on the tracks and talked for a few minutes, she said, but when she got up to leave Reed threw her to the ground and raped her. “He had his hand over my mouth and then the train went by with the horn blowing,” she said. “No one could hear me scream.” The incident occurred about 100 yards from Reed’s house, but the case went cold when Harbottle couldn’t identify her attacker. She walked back to Ray’s and called police that night in ’95, but “it was dark and I was drunk,” she says. Police were able to draw a DNA sample, however, which matched with Reed after he turned himself in for a petty drug charge in April ’97 and submitted DNA.
It’s been 20 years and “everybody keeps telling me to move on, to forget the past,” she says, “but how can I when (the Reed case) is in the news all the time.” Harbottle says she’s been harassed by Reed supporters and had to report one to the police so he would stop coming by her restaurant (the short-lived In Cahoots in Bastrop) and grilling her about her testimony. She was called by the prosecutors during the sentencing phase of Reed’s trial. Four other former Reed rape victims also testified. “I’ve been called a liar and a whore,” she says. “I’ve had to stay off the Internet because it’s just too upsetting.”
Reed is still under indictment in the rapes of Harbottle and a 12-year-old girl, plus an attempted kidnapping, but he wasn’t tried in those cases because he was found guilty of capital murder in the Stites case.