Extraordinary Reexamination of Evidence in Highly Flawed Missouri Death Penalty Case Opens Possible “Path Forward to Truth and Justice”

Press Release
September 12, 2012

Extraordinary Reexamination of Evidence in Highly Flawed Missouri Death Penalty Case Opens Possible “Path Forward to Truth and Justice”

Special Hearing on Reggie Clemons Case Begins Monday, Sept 17 in St. Louis, Shadowed by Sept. 21 One Year Anniversary of Troy Davis Execution in Georgia

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(St. Louis, Mo.) -- More than two and a half years into its global campaign to spare Reggie Clemons’s life and expose the serious mistakes that led to his death sentence, Amnesty International said today it is hopeful that a Missouri judge will bring to light the “highly disturbing” aspects of the 19-year-old case as he opens an extraordinary reexamination of evidence on Monday, Sept. 17.

The special hearing for Clemons, which may take several days, is shadowed by the one-year anniversary on Sept. 21 of the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. The two cases are eerily similar and highlight many of the failures of the death penalty. Both men are African American and were accused as young men of murder, although no physical evidence tied them to the deaths. In addition, the cases involved suspected police coercion, possible racial bias, inadequate legal representation and unreliable witness testimony.

Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, said:

“We know that mistakes regularly occur in death penalty cases and the innocent are executed. Troy Davis went to his death in Georgia because the justice system failed to adequately scrutinize the doubts raised about his conviction. We commend the Missouri Supreme Court for setting in motion a very unique hearing of Clemons’s case. There is a real opportunity for Missouri to right a wrong and establish a path forward to truth and justice. Additionally, we hope that state lawmakers will look at this case as a symptom of a badly flawed death penalty that must be addressed."

Given the organization’s concerns with the case stemming from its groundbreaking 2010 investigation, Moye will attend the hearing along with other Amnesty International supporters who have been building awareness about the case in Missouri and around the world and campaigning to prevent his execution.

After the hearing, Judge Manners will pass along his recommendations to the Missouri Supreme Court. He could recommend overturning the conviction and ordering a new trial, overturning the death sentence only, or he could recommend leaving the verdict and sentence intact, paving the way for a possible execution. Clemons was sentenced to death as an accomplice in the 1991 deaths of two young women who died after falling from a bridge over the Mississippi River. He has been on death row since 1993.

“This hearing ultimately could determine whether Reggie Clemons will live or die,” said Moye.

The special hearing before Judge Michael Manners will reportedly examine new evidence, including a rape kit found in a police evidence room in March 2010 - nearly two decades after the crime (the hearing begins at 9 a.m. at Carnahan Court building, 114 Market St. between 11th and 12th St).

On Tuesday, more than 13,000 people sent online messages of support to deliver to the Rev. Reynolds Thomas, Reggie’s father, at a rally Saturday, Sept. 15, two days before the hearing.

Hundreds of activists will join Amnesty International and other groups at the rally from noon to 3 pm in St. Louis to show their support for Clemons and his family at this pivotal time (Kiener Plaza by Olive St. and Market St.).

Investigation Questions Fairness of Trial

In its groundbreaking 2010 investigation, “Death by Prosecutorial Misconduct and A ‘Stacked’ Jury,” Amnesty International raised serious concerns about the fairness of Clemons’s trial, including disturbing patterns of prosecutorial misconduct, the unusual selection of a predominantly white jury, the alleged violent police assault on Clemons during interrogation and the woefully poor legal representation he had at trial.

No physical evidence ties Clemons to the deaths. The prosecution conceded that Clemons neither killed the sisters, nor planned the crime. Instead, his fate rested on the testimony of two white men – one of whom had been a suspect and was also a first cousin of the two victims, and the other a co-defendant. Both are now free. Clemons, who was 19 when the deaths occurred, has been on death row since 1993.

Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death as an accomplice in the murder of Julie, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, who died after falling from a bridge over the Mississippi River. One body was never recovered from the river. Two other African American men were sentenced to death in the case. Marlin Gray was executed in 2005; the death sentence against Antonio Richardson was reduced to life in prison in 2003.

Since Amnesty International launched its appeal to save Clemons’s life, more than 70,000 people around the globe have taken action to demand justice for him.

Over 1,300 men and women have been executed in the United States since capital punishment resumed in 1977. In 2011, 43 men were put to death; 27 have been executed so far this year.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.