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Judge Keeps Missouri Man From Death Chamber Once Again

The state of Missouri’s 20-year odyssey in trying to bring Reggie Clemons to the death chamber for murdering two young sisters in St. Louis will continue after a judge’s ruling that Clemons’ confession was coerced from him by police—and evidence of the injuries he incurred was suppressed from his defense lawyers in violation of his constitutional rights.

Michael Manners, a judge appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to review the case, has now provided Clemons with his greatest hope of avoiding lethal injection since he was put on death row in February 1993.

The judge produced his exhaustive 107-page report after four years of research, concluding that the prisoner’s constitutional rights were violated because state prosecutors failed to disclose evidence of his police-inflicted injuries.

“I would find in Clemons’ favor on the issue of a violation concerning suppression of evidence,” Manners writes.

In his ruling, Manners also says Clemons has failed to make a convincing case of his innocence.

“I do not find that Clemons has established a gateway claim of actual innocence,” he writes.

In a special hearing last September, Clemons pled the Fifth Amendment 29 times, which Manners found objectionable. The judge says defendants at a criminal trial are entitled to decline to answer questions without any negative inferences being drawn, but “we are way past that point now,” Manners writes.

The questions Clemons refused to answer included whether he raped one or both girls, whether he ripped the clothes off the girls, and whether he told his accomplices “We threw them off” – a reference to the Chain of Rocks bridge over the Mississippi where the two sisters died in April 1991.

Julie and Robin Kerry, aged 20 and 19 respectively, drowned in the Mississippi River on the night of 4-5 April, 1991, after they were pushed from the bridge. Their cousin, Thomas Cummins, was with them but survived.

There were four men who were charged with the women’s murders – Clemons; Marlin Gray who was executed in 2005; Antonio Richardson who is serving a life sentence; and the one white member of the group, Daniel Winfrey, who became the state’s witness and was released on parole in 2007.

The judge’s special report will now be passed to the state’s supreme court that will make a final decision on whether Clemons should be put to death, retried, or have his sentence commuted, probably to life with no chance of parole.

Clemons’ mother, Vera Thomas, said in a statement that there are “no winners in a death penalty case. This was such a derailment of due process from the very beginning.”

His lead defense lawyer, Joshua Levine of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which represented Clemons pro bono, said, “We are gratified by Judge Manners’ determination that Mr. Clemons’ constitutional right to due process was violated. We look forward to continuing to pursue this matter before the Missouri Supreme Court.”


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