Justice for Reggie Clemons: Not Another Troy Davis

Monday, a “special master” in St. Louis begins review of the case of Reggie Clemons to determine if his trial was fair and his death sentence is just. Reggie Clemons is on Missouri’s death row for murders he did not commit. When Troy Davis was executed one year ago this month, we thought we’d put the absolute horror and national shame that our government would put an innocent man to death behind us. But the case of Reggie Clemons looms large – Missouri, the state that “compromised” Black people by authorizing slavery within certain parameters in order to be admitted to the United States, has continued that legacy of disrespect of Black life by engaging in a flawed, decades-long effort to execute an innocent Black man.

Let’s back up a little and lay out this terrible tale -

Late one night in 1991, two young white woman plunged to their deaths from the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. The original suspect, Thomas Cummins, the out-of-town cousin of the women originally admitted to making a sexual advance on one of them, startling her and causing her to fall into the river, her sister jumping in afterwards in a failed attempt to save her. Cummins confessed to the crime after failing a lie detector test and changing his story several times. Only after the police charged and then inexplicably released this first suspect, did they turn to Reggie Clemons, who had no criminal history, and three others and charge them with murder.

Reggie Clemons maintains his innocence and there is no physical evidence of his involvement in the deaths - no fingerprints, no DNA, no hair or fiber samples – despite a rape accusation. Reggie Clemons’ case was marred by race bias, police brutality, a unconstitutionally-constituted jury, prosecutorial misconduct, and a wholly inadequate defense. 

He was convicted as an accomplice mostly by the testimony of two witnesses, the one who at first was considered a prime suspect, and another who confessed to participating in the deaths, received a much lighter sentence, and is out of prison. The first witness, the victims’ cousin, who was with the victims at the time, confessed to the crime himself and was originally charged with their murders.  He later claimed Clemons and three others had raped the women, pushing them off the bridge and forcing him to jump. He claimed he was forced to swim to shore, an almost impossible feat to survive, especially with clothes intact and hair neatly-combed and dry, as his were. This story failed a polygraph test. With this new story however, his own charges were dropped.

The second witness, the only white codefendant, gave different accounts to police and in another codefendant’s trial than the testimony he gave at Mr. Clemons’ trial. He told a jailhouse friend he would lie in exchange for a plea bargain because no one would believe a bunch of black men. That witness pled guilty and is now out of jail.

These two witnesses were white, while Mr. Clemons and the two other young men sentenced to death in this case, Marlin Gray and Antonio Richardson were Black. Of Mr. Clemons’ two Black codefendants, one remains in prison, and the other was executed. All three consistently maintained their innocence.

The parade of legal horribles masquerading as due process include the following:

At his arraignment following police interrogation, Mr. Clemons was sent by the judge to the hospital for treatment due to injuries and swelling to his face. One of the two witnesses to testify against Mr. Clemons later received a $150,000 settlement for the police brutality that occurred during the investigation of his role in the deaths.
Mr. Clemons soon retracted the “confession” to rape he gave after the brutal beating with the police that resulted in his injuries. The district attorney never even brought rape charges against Clemons as there was no evidence rape had ever occurred. DNA evidence excluding Reggie Clemons as a perpetrator had been hidden by the prosecutor and was only “discovered” after the trial and sentence of death were imposed.
In 2002, a U.S. District Court judge overturned Mr. Clemons’ death sentence because six prospective jurors had been improperly excluded at jury selection. A higher court reversed this ruling on purely technical grounds – saying only that Mr. Clemons’ lawyer had not properly preserved the claim for federal judicial review.
Four federal judges have agreed that the prosecutor’s conduct during Mr. Clemons’ trial was "abusive and boorish.” In his closing statement, the prosecutor compared Mr. Clemons to two convicted serial killers, even though Mr. Clemons had no criminal record. Mr. Clemons’s prosecutor had a long history of legal misbehavior and was later held in contempt and fined for his misconduct at Mr. Clemons’s trial. 
Mr. Clemons’ trial lawyers were a recently-divorced couple, one of whom moved out of state six months before his trial and maintained a full-time job in that other state during the trial, and the other of whom was subsequently disbarred.  Another lawyer hired to assist in the case said that as the trial loomed, it was clear the two trial lawyers had not done the necessary preparation.

Reggie Clemons’ case has many of the classic concerns that plague capital punishment in the United States – racism, prosecutorial misconduct, a coerced confession, lying witnesses, ineffective defense counsel, and no physical evidence. The similarities between Mr. Clemons’ case and that of Troy Davis are eerie.

We hope the special master appointed to hear the matter this week reviews the facts and processes of this case thoroughly. The sham prosecution and the failure of the state to produce any reliable evidence to support the conviction and death sentence cast further doubt on the failed government program that is called capital punishment. Reggie Clemons was, at best, in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

We must heed Marlin Gray’s final words before his execution in 2005 – “This is not a death, it is a lynching.

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Anonymous

this sick fkn animal took part in the killings of my friends and is long overdue to pay the piper !!!!!!!

Anonymous

this sick fkr tortured and killed my friends and is long overdue to pay the piper!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous

Yikes. "Two white woman" can the ACLU at least get someone literate to write their blog posts? Although the whole thing is far from funny - I found myself laughing at the sputtering, indignant tone of this post. It sounds like a 14-year-old kid wrote it! When a death row inmate's life is in the balance, THIS is how the ACLU chooses to represent themselves? Sad.

Anonymous

Today , police & ex-family members testified against Reginald Clemmons claims of police brutality. DNA does not rule him out of the crime scene, it backs up confessions of the accused, that multiple rapes did indeed occur. To claim the possible innocence of Reginald Clemmons is foolish . He is guilty of rape & complicit in a double murder . Lets stick with the brutal truth, this man is guilty as sin , but still does not deserve to die...kick him back in the can and throw away the key and give the family some peace.

The truth

If anyone is interested in reading the truth about this case please paste this link into your browser:

http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/guest-commentary-reginald-clemons-g...

The death penalty is barbaric, but contorting well established facts in order to achieve its abolition is equally as barbaric, especially to the surviving family members of these two murder victims. Anti-abortion zealots are as equally perverse in their rationalizations of spewing forth medically unsupported assertions to sway public opinion. Does the name "Todd Akin" mean anything to you?

Let those of us in the movement to abolish the death penalty take the higher ground and not throw victims and surviving family members under the bus by repeating the factual misstatements found in this article.

Ironically, the two young women savagely raped and murdered by Clemons, Gray, Richardson and Winfrey were members of Amnesty International and vocal opponents to the death penalty. They'd likely voice their opposition to the execution of Clemons, but thanks to Mr. Clemons they'll never have that chance. He took it away from them. Ironic, indeed!

Truth

The death penalty is barbaric and should be outlawed, but let's not further exploit victims and their surviving families by distorting well established facts like the author of this article has done regarding Reginald Clemons.

To read the truth, paste the link below into your browser:

www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/guest-commentary-reginald-clemons-guilt-is...

Truth

We, the family of Julie and Robin Kerry, and Tom Cummins, would prefer to remain beyond the public debate about Reginald Clemons, as we are not responsible for his fate. What we are responsible for is protecting the memory and integrity of his victims and preventing, as much as possible, the distortion of the truth.

It's unsurprising that Clemons and his supporters are engaged in a series of elaborate distractions, in hopes of saving his life. It's even predictable that they will distort the facts in these efforts. But it's abhorrent that the media have become such willful participants in this charade. It is a further abomination that Amnesty International has sullied their honor by becoming thoughtless agitators for a man so ill-deserving of their support.

Anyone who looks beyond the soapbox ravings of extremists can access the established facts of Clemons' irrefutable guilt. Police records and trial transcripts reveal abundant evidence, and are public record. We encourage people to read them, in search of truth.

To those who cry foul because of the demographics of this crime, remember that Antonio Richardson, one of the two minor-aged perpetrators, was offered the same deal as the sole white defendant and other minor, Daniel Winfrey. It was Richardson's choice to turn that deal down. To omit that fact in the public discourse is dishonest. We urge caution in the discussion of race. Are Julie and Robin, who had Puerto Rican and Lebanese heritage, and worked tirelessly for racial equality, less deserving of justice because of the color of their skin?

To those who would suggest that Tom Cummins is guilty: Shame on you. Tom has suffered 21 years of horror at the hands of the very man who attempted to murder him. Tom's only crime was surviving when he was supposed to die. His so-called "confession" was no more than a single desperate utterance of "believe whatever you want" at a moment of abject despair; that moment is in no way comparable to the recorded, signed, fully realized confessions of all four perpetrators. Despite fabrications to the contrary, Tom's story never changed, even after the unspeakable trauma and sleep deprivation he suffered throughout his ordeal. What did change were the police-manufactured suppositions in which Tom was cast as a suspect. Tom did not create, or confess to, any of those disgusting theories.

All four offenders' confessions, obtained individually and without collective knowledge, corroborated Tom's story. To pretend that some alleged police brutality produced four identical confessions, from four individual suspects, in four separate interviews, conducted by a variety of interrogators, is senseless.

To the matter of DNA: Because of Clemons' monstrous actions, our family never recovered the body of his rape victim, our beloved sister Robin Kerry. Julie's body was found weeks after the crime, hundreds of miles downriver, and of course there was no remaining DNA evidence. Any suggestion that a "rape kit" conducted on her remains should exonerate Clemons is ludicrous.

It's difficult to open our grief to public scrutiny. But ultimately, we are armed with the insurmountable truth, and if we do not stand up and shout that truth aloud, then we become culpable in the cycle of willful amnesia. Julie and Robin were intelligent, progressive, passionate forward-thinkers. They were supporters of Amnesty International, and that organization has willfully misled the public about the facts of their brutal murder. Amnesty International has betrayed the memory of two of its most ardent soldiers, and for that, they should feel deeply ashamed.

It is important to hold a reasonable public discourse about the morality and future of capital punishment. But Clemons' indisputable guilt should have no bearing on that discussion. Mr. Clemons knows what he did. We cannot allow him to impugn the integrity of our brother Tom Cummins any longer, or to disparage the good names of Nels Moss and others who worked to bring these men to justice. We will not allow him to mock the memory of the two beautiful young women whose blood is on his hands.

The truth

I've tried to post the truth regarding Reginald Clemons in these comments, but, ironically, the ACLU's system automatically blocks it. If anyone is interested in reading the truth please log into the St. Louis Post Dispatch's website and read the guest commentary written by the family of Clemons' victims.

Anonymous

The BBC have put racist Savannah and lies back up on their headline news page. Make your complaints directly to the BBC and via Sotheby’s Realty who are sponsoring Savannah’s false appearance on sites like BBC News. Expose those institutions that sponsor racism and ignore the blatant injustices that exist in the city of Savannah.

https://ssl.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/?reset=#anchor

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