Wednesday, February 29, 2012

MO Runs Risk of Executing Innocent Man

The flawed justice system of the United States is once again at risk of executing another potentially innocent person.

The case involves Reggie Clemons, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Julie and Robin Kerry. Clemons case represents a checklist of everything that is wrong with the death penalty, including poor legal representation, a “stacked” jury, racial discrimination, police coercion, lack of physical evidence, prosecutorial misconduct and questionable witnesses.

In April 1991, Thomas Cummins was with his two cousins, Julie and Robin at the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis. While there they countered Clemons, Antonio Richardson, Marlin Gray and Daniel Winfrey. According to reports, the two only spoke briefly before parting ways. Shortly after the two women plunged into the river to their deaths and were followed by Cummins who swam to shore. Cummins later told police that the four youths raped his two cousins, robbed him and forced them to jump into the bridge. After they were convicted, Richardson had his sentence reduced to life in prison and Gray was executed in 2005. Winfrey, who was the only white member of the group, plead to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony against the other three. Clemons still remains on death row and continues to maintain his innocence.

There is a lot of skepticism surrounding Cummins story. Despite being forced to jump from the bridge, police said his hair was dry and neatly combed. He also sustained no apparent injuries from the fall. Further doubt arose when Cummins failed a lie detector test. Finally, Cummins later admitted the Kerry sisters fell from the bridge after an argument, which was caused by Cummins making a sexual advance on one of them. He was then convicted of the murder, but later after meeting with prosecutor Nels Moss he identified Clemons, Richardson, Gray and Winfrey as the four youths he encountered on the bridge on the night of the murder. The four men were arrested and charges against Cummins were dropped.

Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death on April 2, 1993. On the same day, Thomas Cummins filed a police brutality lawsuit and said his original confession had been beaten out of him. The suit was settled out of court for $150,000. Clemons confessed to raping the two women, but denied any involvement in their deaths. However, he later retracted the statement and said police had beaten his confession out of him. Several witnesses said they saw Clemons with a swollen face after his interrogation, and the Judge who presided over his arraignment ordered Clemons be taken to a hospital. Despite this obvious evidence of police brutality, the confession was admitted at trial and used as evidence.

Clemons defense was far from adequate during the trial. His lawyer was suspended from practicing law after numerous complaints, and his co-council held a full-time job in another state while representing Clemons.

Racial bias was also evident throughout the case. Particularly in the sense that the two murder victims were white, the three convicted men were black and both primary witnesses were white. Also, a Judge ruled that six jurors were improperly dismissed at jury selection and that Clemons death sentence should not stand. However, the ruling was overturned because Clemons’ lawyer failed to properly preserve the claim for federal judicial review.

After the Supreme Court stayed his 2009 execution, a “special master” was assigned to the case to determine whether Clemons’ conviction is reliable and whether he should be put to death. Clemons has a hearing in March 2012, which will determine whether he is eligible for a new trial, whether he is taken off death row or if he remains at risk of being executed.

Based on the evidence, Reggie Clemons did not murder Julie and Robin Kerry in April 1991. His innocence is clear, but it must be made well known to the state of Missouri that executing Clemons would be another unforgivable mistake committed by the justice system of the United States.

To aid Reggie, write Governor Jay Nixon by filling at the form at:

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