Reggie Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death in St. Louis, Missouri as an accomplice in the murder of two white women in 1991. The women, Julie and Robin Kerry, were killed as they fell from the Chain of Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River.
Along with Clemons, three other youths were arrested and three of them, all African-American, were given the death sentence. One of them, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2005. The fourth man, Daniel Winfrey, was offered a lesser offense in exchange for testifying against Clemons.
As stated before, no physical evidence linked Clemons to the crime. His conviction relied mainly on two eye-witnesses, the first of which was Winfrey. The second eye-witness was Thomas Cummins, cousin of the two victims, who initially was picked up by authorities and confessed to the crime. He later identified Clemons and the other suspects as the perpetrators and charges against him were dropped.
In addition to the questionable testimonies, there seems to have been clear misconduct throughout the criminal justice process. To begin with, Clemons claims that he confessed to raping one of the victims under the pressure of police brutality. Two other suspects also alleged the same mistreatment and witnesses attest to seeing Clemons’ face swollen following the police interrogation. Clemons retracted the confession and maintains his innocence of all charges.
As is the case with many capital cases, inadequate legal representation for Clemons was clear and Clemons’ lawyer was later suspended from practicing law after various complaints were filed. In addition, there was clear prosecutorial misconduct, according to four federal judges who have all agreed that the prosecutor’s tactics were overly aggressive and abusive. The prosecutor compared Clemons, who had no criminal record, to a serial killer. Again, the prosecutor received various complaints from both state and federal courts.
The question of race is one that plays in very clearly in the Clemons case. There have been clear trends shown concerning biases regarding the race of the victim. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, over 75% of cases that result in execution were when the murder victim was white, even though only about 1/2 of murder victims nationally are white. In the Clemons case, both of the victims were white, the two main eye-witnesses were white, and the three convicted defendants were black. In addition, a 2002 U.S. District Court judge ruled that the death sentence of Clemons should not stand since six prospective jurors were excluded improperly in jury selection, resulting in a stacked jury that was unrepresentative of the population of St. Louis. This ruling, however, did not stand and was overturned by a higher court on technical grounds.
Clemons has a new hearing date set for March 5th, 2012 and there will be a huge push among abolitionists throughout the country to get him off death row. Regardless of your moral feelings on capital punishment, is seems clear that a country which considers itself to be a bastion for human rights around the world, would want to end a system which is clearly racially skewed and rife with mistakes that have put innocent men to death before and, if not stopped, will do it again. Missouri has executed 68 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Let’s not add one more name to that list.
Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.
Photo credit: Amnesty International