The new evidentiary hearing for Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons ended Thursday afternoon on a high note for the State of Missouri, which is defending its conviction of Clemons for first degree murder in response to a writ of habeas corpus challenging that conviction that Clemons filed with the Missouri Supreme Court.
The state called DNA analysts from the Missouri Highway Patrol and a private company that performs paternity tests to present data concerning a used condom found on the Chain of Rocks Bridge the morning after the April 4, 1991 events and from boxer shorts and pants that Clemons’ codefendant Marlin Gray wore that night.
Though the evidence dates back to Clemons’ 1993 jury trial, more sensitive DNA analytics developed since then now make it possible to develop DNA profiles from the scant amount of DNA material left on the objects, the DNA analysts testified.
The new DNA profiles conform to the state’s case that Robin Kerry and Julie Kerry endured a group rape on the bridge. DNA with female characteristics extracted from the condom matches DNA with female characteristics extracted from Gray’s boxers and pants, according to Stacey Bolinger, DNA analyst for the Missouri Highway Patrol. And according to Kim Gorman, DNA analyst for Paternity Testing Corp. in Columbia, this female DNA is 99.99 percent (“and really many more 9s than that”) more likely to be a daughter of the Kerry girls’ parents than a random person, according to comparisons to the parents’ DNA profiles.
The DNA on both Gray’s shorts and pants was subjected to a process that separates out sperm cells, enabling a separation of male DNA profiles. The male DNA on his shorts contains a mixture of at least two individuals, Bolinger said, and neither Gray nor Clemons could be eliminated from a possible match, based on a comparison to their DNA profiles. She said the male DNA on Gray’s pants contains a mixture of at least three individuals, and Gray, Clemons and their codefendant Antonio Richardson could not be eliminated from a possible match.
Under cross examination by Andrew Lacy of Clemons’ legal team, Bolinger said there was no exact DNA match for Clemons in any of the evidence. She also said there is no test for how old DNA is or when it was deposited, so no way to confirm that this DNA dates back to the crimes. “Contamination is possible,” Bolinger admitted. She also said the DNA separated out for sperm “could be non-sperm.”
Gray, Richardson and Clemons all were convicted of first degree murder of the Kerry sisters in three separate trials in 1993, and all were sentenced to death. Clemons was charged with rape in the incident, but has never been tried for rape.
On Wednesday, Clemons refused to answer 29 questions from the state on grounds his answer could incriminate him. Initially, he pled the 5th Amendment 32 times, but after Judge Michael Manners encouraged him to meet with counsel to rethink his decision, Clemons answered three of those questions.
Previously, he answered four questions about the crimes posed by Andrew Lacy of his legal team: “Did you kill Robin or Julie Kerry?” “Were you aware of any plan to kill Robin or Julie Kerry?” “Did you intend to kill Robin or Julie Kerry?” “Did you intend to assist in the killing of Robin or Julie Kerry?”
To all four questions, Clemons answered, “No.”
In 2003 Richardson’s sentence was commuted to life without possibility of parole because his death sentence was imposed by a judge when the jury could not decide. Gray was executed in 2005. Clemons was scheduled for execution in 2009 when a federal court granted a stay while a federal appeal was pending, and then the Missouri Supreme Court surprisingly appointed a Special Master, Judge Michael Manners, to convene a new evidentiary hearing.
This hearing was held Monday through Thursday as a special hearing of the Missouri Supreme Court in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Judge Manners next will submit his findings to the Missouri Supreme Court, which will then consider Clemons’ writ of habeas corpus. Clemons has petitioned both to receive a new trial and to have his death penalty vacated because it is not proportional, given his age at the time of the crime (19), his lack of a prior criminal record and the fact that he was convicted as an accomplice.