The Missouri Supreme Court announced Tuesday its decision to toss out a pair of first-degree murder convictions for death row inmate Reginald Clemons in connection to a 1991 double-homicide. Clemons, who had been on death row for nearly 20 years, was one of four people convicted of raping and killing sisters Julie and Robin Kerry by pushing them off the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis into the Mississippi River.

In 1993, Clemons was sentenced to death on two counts of first-degree murder. Clemons has been fighting those convictions, maintaining his innocence, and testifying that he was beaten and coerced into confessing to the crime. Two other youths were also convicted, including Marlin Gray (executed in 2005). Clemons has consistently maintained his innocence.

In April 1991, Reggie Clemons, Antonio Richardson, Marlin Gray and Daniel Winfrey (all teenagers except for one) encountered sisters Julie and Robin Kerry and their cousin, Thomas Cummins, on the Chain of the Rocks Bridge. Cummins contacted the police claiming the group of youths pushed the Kerry sisters off the bridge into the river, and ordered him to jump off the bridge.

After further interrogation, Cummins implicated himself and he was charged with the murder of his cousins. The police traced a flashlight found on the bridge to Antonio Richardson. After initial denials, the police obtained a statement from Richardson in which he implicated himself, Winfrey, Gray and Clemons. Cummins was released from police custody.

No physical evidence ties Clemons to the crime or the events leading up to it. On the day Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death, Thomas Cummins — the prosecution’s star witness— filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis Police Department for alleged police brutality in securing his confession to murder.  He later received a $150,000 out-of-court settlement from the St. Louis Police Department.

Daniel Winfrey pled guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for testimony against Clemons and the other two. Clemons alleges that he confessed under the pressure of police brutality to raping one of the victims. He never confessed to the murders. Witnesses attest to Clemons’ face being swollen after his interrogation. He subsequently retracted his confession.

Reggie Clemons execution date was scheduled for June 17, 2009. It was stayed two weeks later by the Missouri Supreme Court, who assigned a Special Master (a judge) to examine the case, to investigate the reliability of the conviction and the proportionality of the death sentence. The court recently vacated his convictions, saying the state suppressed evidence Clemons was beaten by police and coerced into confessing. Missouri now has 60 days to decide whether to pursue a retrial. The court overturned the murder convictions in a 4-3 vote, sending Clemons’ case back to circuit court. Clemons also faces a 15-year prison sentence in another case.

 

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