The Missouri Supreme Court yesterday threw out the first-degree murder conviction and death sentence of Reggie Clemons, who was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice to a 1991 murder of two young women. Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), issued the following statement in response:
“Reggie Clemons’ case has long highlighted many of the flaws in the U.S. death penalty system. The decision by the Missouri Supreme Court is an acknowledgement of the deeply flawed process that led to his death sentence. From the police investigation to the appeals process, his case was dogged by serious problems, allegedly including police brutality, racial bias, a stacked jury and prosecutorial misconduct.
“Clemons says he confessed as the result of a violent police interrogation. The arraigning judge even sent him to the emergency room because of his injured appearance. Clemons later retracted his confession and has maintained his innocence throughout.
“Four federal judges found the conduct of the prosecutor in the case to be ‘abusive and boorish,’ and Clemons’ legal representation was inadequate. His lead attorney was later suspended from practicing law following numerous complaints.
“The question of race overshadowed the investigation and trial as well. Clemons was one of three black defendants convicted of killing the two white victims, and both key witnesses were white. Blacks were disproportionately dismissed during jury selection.
“AIUSA activists have worked for years to draw attention to this case. Yesterday’s ruling removes the threat of death that has been hanging over Clemons for the past two decades. His future is uncertain, but we will work to ensure that he never again faces the death penalty.”
Amnesty International USA opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. As of today, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Last year, executions in the United States were at a 20-year low, and death sentences were at their lowest level since 1976. Nineteen states plus the District of Columbia have banned capital punishment, and seven other states have not carried out an execution in 10 years. Missouri executed 10 prisoners last year, more than any other state and tied with Texas, making it one of just a handful of states that continue to aggressively pursue executions.