MISSOURI – Hearing starts Monday in Mo. death row case – REGINALD CLEMONS

Update September 21, 2012 http://www.stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • A special review of Reginald Clemons’ death sentence in the 1991 Chain of Rocks Bridge double murder case ended for the week on Thursday.

Lawyers for both sides intend to call at least one more witness each, which will be done through depositions out of the public eye.

The attorneys will then submit legal briefs by Dec. 1 to Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Manners, who the Missouri Supreme Court appointed as “special master” to review the case.

After that, the parties may reconvene for final statements before the judge. Manners is expected to take several months before submitting all the evidence and a final recommendation to the high court, which would then begin its process of reviewing Clemons’ appeal.

Ultimately, the court could decide anything from upholding the conviction or vacating it, to ordering a new trial.

After the hearing Thursday, family of the victims, Robin and Julie Kerry, said they are one step closer in their more than 20-year wait for closure.

“I’m glad, for all intents and purposes, it’s over,” said Virginia Kerry, mother of the two young women. “Now I can start burying everything again. I don’t have to deal with these people who say he’s innocent.”

For Clemons’ family, it’s also been a hard journey.

Bishop Reynolds Thomas, of the New Life Worship Complex, said fighting his son’s case has plunged him into bankruptcy. But it was worth it, he said. He still firmly believes his son is innocent.

“After 20 years, we took it as far as we could,” he said. “Now we just take it one day at a time.”

Thursday’s hearing brought several state witnesses who testified they saw Clemons without any apparent injuries after the police interrogation in which he claims his confession was beaten out of him. Among those who took the stand were a fingerprint technician and a family friend.

Several lab technicians also were called to speak to the testing of biological evidence. Items tested included a rape kit taken from Julie Kerry, a used condom found on the bridge, and pants and boxers taken from Marlin Gray, one of three men convicted of the crime separately from Clemons.

The evidence was re-tested in recent years with new DNA technology.

Stacey Bolinger, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab, said the rape kit did not have sufficient DNA evidence to test. Julie Kerry’s body had been in the Mississippi River for three weeks and was moderately decomposed when two fisherman found it. Robin Kerry’s body was never recovered.

There was male DNA from at least two individuals on Gray’s boxers and from at least three individuals on his pants. Clemons could not be eliminated as a source of it, she said.

Also on the clothing was the same female DNA that was found on the condom. Kim Gorman, formerly of the St. Louis police crime lab, testified that DNA had “a very high likelihood” of belonging to one of the Kerry sisters.

Update September 20, 2012 http://www.news.com.au

On the second day of a special hearing before a judge in Missouri, Clemons, 41, said that when charges were read against him in 1991 a judge noticed signs he had been hit and ordered him to be examined in hospital, said Laura Moye of Amnesty International-USA.

Clemons‘ attorneys maintain that Clemons only admitted raping one of his victims under police duress. He later reversed himself.

“The only time they stopped hitting me was when I agreed to make a taped statement,” he told STLToday.com.

“When I was being beaten, I wasn’t counting.”

“His counsel interrogated him on the alleged brutality when he testified the first night,” court spokesman Matt Murphy said.

“He was cross examined by the State, then the State played a 20 minute taped confession he made that night about what happened that night.”

Clemons was found guilty in 1993 of the murder of two sisters, aged 19 and 20, who allegedly were pushed from a bridge into the Mississippi River in 1991.

The events occurred at Chain of Rocks Bridge, a popular hangout at night for youths from Saint Louis, where Clemons and three friends came into contact with the two sisters, Julie and Robin Kerry, and their cousin Thomas Cummins.

The group Clemons was with is alleged to have raped the women and robbed Cummins before pushing them off the bridge.

Amnesty International has pushed for the state to commute Clemons’ death sentence because of allegations of police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct and a “stacked” predominantly white jury.

A former lawyer for Clemons testified Monday that he had not been informed about the existence of DNA samples taken from one of the bodies recovered from the Mississippi

September 16, 2012 http://www.sacbee.com/

T. LOUIS — The effort to free Reginald Clemons from Missouri’s death row goes to a St. Louis courtroom starting Monday.

Clemons was one of four men convicted in the 1991 killings of two St. Louis-area sisters, 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry. Both girls, along with their visiting male cousin, were thrown from an abandoned Mississippi River bridge. The cousin, Thomas Cummins, survived.

Clemons confessed to the killings, but later recanted. His lawyers say the confession was beaten out of him by police interrogators.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners will oversee the hearing. He will then issue a report to the Missouri Supreme Court, which will decide whether Clemons should get a new trial. The Supreme Court could also decide to commute Clemons’ death sentence, said Matt Murphy,spokesman for the St. Louis Circuit Court.

Murphy said it will likely be several months before the Supreme Court makes a decision.

Clemons is expected to be in the courtroom for the hearing, which will proceed much like a trial. Murphy is expected to testify Monday or Tuesday. The trial is expected to last five days.

Clemons’ case has drawn international attention. Laura Moye, director of Amnesty InternationalUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, is expected to attend the hearing.

Amnesty International has cited what it sees as several concerns about the case, concerns that include potential police misconduct, a lack of physical evidence and inconsistent witness testimony.

Moye has also argued that racial bias may have played a role in his conviction; the victims were white and the defendants were black.

New evidence could be presented at the hearing. In 2010, the Missouri Attorney General’s office found lab reports and physical evidence, including a rape kit, taken during an exam of one of the victim’s remains. Those findings have never been released publicly, but could come up during the hearing.

The Kerry sisters took Cummins, then 19, to the unused Chain of Rocks Bridge on the night of April 5, 1991, to show him a poem they had placed on the span. They happened upon a group of young men. The girls were raped and all three were pushed off the bridge.

Clemons and Marlin Gray were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Gray was executed in 2005. Clemons was just weeks from execution in 2009 when a federal appeals court delayed it.

Another of the suspects, Antonio Richardson, had his death sentence overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993 because of procedural errors.

The fourth suspect, Daniel Winfrey, testified for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has been released from prison and is on parole.

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