Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons finally will have his new day in court on Monday, September 17 when Judge Michael Manners convenes a hearing in St. Louis. Manners is the Special Master appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court on June 30, 2009 to gather new evidence in the case and submit a report to the court.
The instigation of a new evidence phase in the Clemons case by a court that had recently set an execution date for him was startling. For many years, Clemons and his pro bono defense team have claimed that the trial court permitted inadmissible evidence and that relevant evidence has appeared since his conviction that calls the verdict into question.
Indeed, on the day Clemons was sentenced to death, the key witness against him, Thomas Cummins, settled a police brutality claim against the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Clemons alleged almost identical acts of brutality by some of the same detectives working the same case. Clemons’ coerced confession was permitted in court and helped to convict him, whereas Cummins’ coerced confession was retracted and he was paid $150,000 to settle his claim.
Clemons was convicted as an accomplice to the murders of Julie and Robin Kerry on April 4, 1991, though no forensic evidence was produced. Under coercion Clemons confessed to rape, not murder; he has never been tried for rape, though the rape charge was used in his sentencing phase to get the death penalty.
The Cummins police brutality settlement, which jurors’ could not have known because it coincided with their verdict, is one troubling aspect of the case emphasized in a new series on the Clemons case being produced in multiple media by The Guardian, England’s bastion of progressive journalism.
The Guardian team, which relied on The American extensively for primary sources and reporting on the case, also pointed out compelling objective support for Clemons’ claim of police coercion: Judge Michael David ordered Clemons sent to the hospital, rather than jail, following his interrogation. Clemons filed his police brutality claim immediately after he was released from the hospital and finally was allowed to see an attorney.
Judge Manners can recommend to the Missouri Supreme Court one of four outcomes for Clemons, according to Michael Wolff, a law professor at Saint Louis University who was serving on the Supreme Court when it appointed Manners as Special Master.
“One result, he could say Clemons should be released,” Wolff said. “Another, he could say there were defects in the trial; grant him a new trial. He could suggest vacating the death penalty and leaving Clemons in prison for the rest of his life. The fourth thing is he could recommend they do nothing” – which would likely put Clemons back on the schedule for execution.
Wolff said he has no idea what form Manners’ report to the Supreme Court will take or if Manners will even recommend any specific course of action. “I do think he will make some new findings for the court to consider,” Wolff said.
Wolff also remains sure that he and his colleagues picked the right judge for the job.
“Mike Manners is a very, very, very well-respected judge from an urban area in a different part of the state,” Wolff said. “He is not from St. Louis, so he will not face St. Louis voters for retention.”
Manners’ relative immunity to politics in judging the case is worth stating.
St. Louis politics was critical to the outcome of the Clemons case, since he and his co-defendants Marlin Gray (who was executed in 2005) and Antonio Richardson (whose death sentence was commuted to life in prison) were tried by Nels C. Moss when Moss was running for Circuit Attorney in the City of St. Louis. Moss turned these cases into show trials and was censured for prosecutorial misconduct after repeatedly making outlandish claims and comparisons in court. For example, Moss continued to compare Clemons – a youth with no criminal record – to confessed mass murderers like Charles Manson even after being ordered by the bench to stop.
Rally for Reggie
Supporters of Reggie Clemons are holding a pre-hearing rally on Saturday, September 15 from noon-3 p.m. at Kiener Plaza, 6th and Market. Tef Poe will perform. Speakers will include Brian Coverson, Midwest Director for Amnesty International, and Clemons’ mother Vera Thomas.
The event is sponsored by the Justice for Reggie Campaign in conjunction with the ACLU, NAACP, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP) and Amnesty International. For more information, contact the Justice for Reggie Clemons Campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org.