February 5, 2014
JEFFERSON CITY — An attorney for a Missouri man who has been on death row for two decades asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn his conviction, asserting that prosecutors suppressed evidence indicating he may have been beaten into confessing.
Reginald Clemons is one of four people who were convicted or pleaded guilty to the 1991 deaths of sisters Julie and Robin Kerry, who prosecutors say were shoved off a St. Louis bridge into the Mississippi River after being raped.
Clemons was scheduled to die by lethal injection in June 2009. But a federal appeals court blocked the execution, and the state Supreme Court then appointed a special judge to investigate Clemons’ claims that he was wrongly convicted.
After a lengthy legal process, Judge Michael Manners issued a report last year concluding that prosecutors suppressed evidence that police may have beaten Clemons while questioning him.
Manners noted that former bail investigator Warren Weeks came forward in 2012 to say he had observed a bump the size of a golf ball or baseball on Clemons’ cheek a few hours after his police interview. Weeks had recorded that on a form at the time, but Manners said it was crossed out by someone on behalf of the state’s prosecution.
Manners wrote in his report that, had Weeks’ testimony been provided to Clemons’ attorneys, it “may have resulted” in a trial court ruling that Clemons’ confession could not be used at his trial.
The arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday focused on whether that would have created “a reasonable probability” that Clemons would not have been convicted.
Clemons’ attorney, Joshua Levine of New York, argued that a new trial was necessary because the confession was a critical piece of evidence.
“It’s a somewhat offensive proposition, the notion that a physically coerced confession that is the centerpiece of the state’s case could somehow not be something that results in a new trial for a defendant,” Levine told the Supreme Court. “Give Mr. Clemons what he’s been looking for all these years, which is just a fair trial.”
Clemons, who now is 43, was 19 at the time of the crimes. His parents and a busload of supporters traveled from the St. Louis area to watch Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments.
“The whole trial was based on a lie, and based on a false confession,” said Maxine Johnson, who described herself as a “prayer warrior” for Clemons.