Photo credit: Damon Davis
Two young women went missing in 1991 after visiting an abandoned bridge in St. Louis, a hangout for local teens, with their cousin. After their disappearance, the cousin told an unlikely story of being pushed off the bridge with the young women, even though he himself survived the 80-foot-fall into a raging river with no injuries and dry hair. Less than two hours later, after changing his story several times, the cousin confessed to the crime. He was never charged and never spent a day in jail.
Instead, Reggie Clemons and three others who had no connection to the young women were convicted of the murders. The prosecutor conceded that Clemons neither pushed the women nor planned their deaths, but theorized that he was an accomplice – even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Clemons and two other black men were sentenced to death while a fourth, a young white man, was offered a plea deal to testify against the other three and is now out on parole. One of the defendants has already been executed.
Clemons’ case has many of the classic concerns that plague our capital punishment system – racial bias, police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct, a coerced confession, lying witnesses, ineffective defense counsel, and no physical evidence. Given this, a special master was appointed to review the case and has yet to arrive at his conclusions.
The ACLU believes that the tragic facts surrounding the deaths of the victims in their fall from the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1991 have yet to be fully uncovered. We endorse Clemons’ request for review the facts of this case. We cannot allow execution based on such a flawed process, and we certainly cannot let another innocent person be wrongfully executed.
Innocence and the Death Penalty: Throughout history, scores of inmates have been found to be innocent after their convictions and released from death row. Unfortunately, some have been executed despite overwhelming doubts about their guilt. Our death penalty system is riddled with problems, and it results in too many mistakes. The execution of even one innocent person is too many.
Race and the Death Penalty: It is unconstitutional for racial bias to play a part in the selection of an individual for capital prosecution, in the prosecution itself, and/or in the imposition of sentence of death. Nevertheless, racial discrimination permeates the capital punishment system.
Effective Counsel: The death penalty is arbitrary and capricious in part because of the poor quality of counsel provided to many of those facing it. Unfortunately, quality of counsel is often a good predictor of who gets sentenced to death and ultimately executed in the United States.