Posted in C-Haze, Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty, Missouri, Reggie Clemons, St. Louis

Justice For Reggie Clemons

The story begins late one night in 1991, and the scene is a run down bridge in the City of St. Louis, locally known as the Old Chain of Rocks bridge. A teen hang out, young people loved to come here to party, as it was isolated- the bridge had been closed for years- offering young partiers privacy and excitement.

On this particular night, seven teens were hanging out at the bridge. Two were sisters, Julie and Robin Kerry, and they were with their cousin, Tom Cummins. The other four teens (Reggie Clemons, Marlin Grey, Antonio Richardson and Daniel Winfrey) were unrelated.

No one knows for sure what exactly transpired, but before the night was over, Julie and Robin were missing, and a terrible tragedy was born- one that ripped countless lives apart- culminating in double homicide, police brutality, jury tampering, prosecutorial misconduct, witness intimidation and finally, death row.

Initially, upon the sisters’ disappearance, their cousin, Thomas Cummins was arrested.  He quickly implicated himself in what he admits were the brutal murders of his cousins. According to his initial statement, Cummins made an unwanted sexual advance towards one of the sisters, resulting in an argument between them- ending with Thomas Cummins pushing his cousin off the bridge, blacking out, and subsequently pushing her sister- his other cousin- off the bridge as well. He claimed he did not remember pushing the second woman off the bridge, and some have speculated she may have jumped voluntarily, in hopes of saving her sibling. Regardless, despite Cummins’ confession, Police were unable to get him to agree to have his statement video-taped, and in fact immediately hired legal counsel.

That’s also when his story changed.

Cummins suddenly began claiming his innocence- that he and his two beautiful cousins were actually victims of a heinous crime that night. He stated that not only did he have nothing to do with their murders, but was brutally beaten and robbed, his cousins raped, and was ultimately forced to jump off the bridge, after witnessing Julie and Robin being pushed. Miraculously, he survived, while his cousins, unfortunately, did not. The perpetrators were unknown. Skeptical of this new story, police administered a lie detector test, and Cummins failed miserably. His own father, upon learning the results of the test, stated he wasn’t surprised. It seems his son had a history of concocting wild tales.

There was other evidence of Cummins’ deceipt, besides the results of the lie detector test and his ever-changing stories. In addition to the failed polygraph, he had no bruises (despite claiming to have been beaten and then forced to jump off an 80 foot bridge into the river below), and his hair, upon testing, showed no evidence of river silt- it was also completely dry when he was brought into the police station that night for questioning, as were his clothing. In addition, one of the victims’ bodies was recovered from the river, and showed no sign of sexual assualt, despite Cummins’ claims that both of his cousins had been raped.

Thomas Cummins did eventually change his story one more time, claiming he didn’t actually jump into the river, but instead climbed down to the banks, entering the water at that point to try and save Julie and Robin.

With no evidence to corroborate Cummins’ changing accounts of what happened on the night in question, and no confession on file to disprove his claims of victimhood, police found themselves back at square one. They re-launched their investigation, returning the Old Chain of Rocks bridge, in search of clues. They found a flashlight that they were able to trace back to one of the other four teens present that night- Antonio Richardson- and immediately hauled him in for questioning. Richardson quickly implicated his three other friends that were also present on the bridge that night. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Cummins met with both investigators and the prosecuting attorney’s office, and all charges were dropped against him.

Police immediately charged the remaining four youths- Reginald Cummins, Antonio Richardson, Marlin Grey and Daniel Winfrey with the crimes committed on the bridge that fateful night- rape, robbery and murder. Three of the four charged, except for Daniel Winfrey, were black.

Police came to 19 year old Reggie Clemons’ house shortly thereafter, telling his mother Vera only that they needed to question him about a homicide. They had no warrant, but Vera, taking the police at their word (they promised to bring him right back home), didn’t think there would be a problem in allowing Reggie to answer the officers’ questions. She had noticed no strange behavior in her son, and knew he wasn’t capable of committing a murder. She only became suspicious when police refused to tell her which precinct they were taking her son to. In fact, she had to follow the officers out to their cars before anyone would give her any information at all.

Despite the officers’ promises to bring her son “right back”, Vera did not hear from Reggie again until the following week- and was told late on the evening that her son was taken for questioning, that he would not be returning- he had been charged with murder.

When Reggie was again seen by family, his face was battered, and he was badly bruised. Injuries, he claimed, were caused by St. Louis City police officers, determined to beat a confession out of him.

Unfortunately for Reggie, the officers succeeded.

While never able to get him to admit to the murders of Robin and Julie, he did ultimately succomb to pressure, and confessed to raping the girls. Police had no evidence to corroborate this statement, but Reggie was charged nonetheless.

Reggie’s injuries were so bad that during his initial court appearance, the judge, having noticed the bruises, ordered him to the hospital for treatment prior to being returned to jail. The judge even speculated that Reggie may some day require reconstructive surgery to fix his face. He took the allegations of being beaten by police officers to Internal Affairs, and filed a formal complaint, but nothing was ever done about his accusations, or the physical evidence he had to support them.

Despite the evidence of police brutality, Reggie’s criminal trial moved forward.

In the process, his bad luck never ran out.

Of the four teens who were originally charged in the murders of Robin Julie Kerry, only one, Daniel Winfrey, was offered a plea.

Winfrey, strangely enough, was also the only white person among the group. In return for testifying against Richardson, Grey and Clemons, Daniel Winfrey was sentenced to 30 years in prison…

… and is currently eligible for parole.

Both Winfrey and Thomas Cummins were tapped to testify at the defendants’ trials, though neither seemed to be the slightest bit reliable. Cummins, having failed a lie detector test when telling his version of events, and Winfrey for admitting to at least one witness while awaiting trial that he was willing to lie on the stand in exchange for leniency.

Reggie Clemons’ attorneys, in the meantime, were no more helpful than the police officers were. One of his lawyers, for example, moved to California to begin working another case, when he should have been preparing for Clemons’ trial. He also forgot to notify Clemons or his family of his departure, and was AWOL for an entire week before being located. His remaining lawyer was so incompetent that he neglected to request even basic reports from the prosecution, so that when the trial finally rolled around, Reggie’s mother was charged with coming up with many of the questions to ask witnesses on the stand.

If police and defense council didn’t pose enough problems for Reggie, there was the prosecution to contend with. Prosecutor Nels C. Moss, Jr. was a most corrupt man, and made it all-but impossible for Clemons to receive a fair trial. Ultimately, a non-profit group called The Center for Public Integrity labeled prosecutor Moss as the “leading example” of the nation’s top prosecutors known for prosecutorial misconduct. 

 The trial judge even held Moss in criminal contempt and fined him for his antics during Clemons’ court proceedings.

Some examples of the prosecution’s miscoduct include the fact that even though the crime was committed in the city of St. Louis, a city with plenty of blacks, Clemons’ jury consisted of ten white people and only two african americans- despite Reggie Clemons’ constitutional right to a jury of his peers. This was accomplished by Moss’ actively moving to strike minorities from the jury- and from his planting a St. Louis police officer in the jury pool, having this person dictate to potential white jurors how to answer the questions asked of them, so that they- the white people- would be the individuals picked to serve.

None  of which constitutes the most ethical of behavior.

In addition, Nels Moss was also accused of witness intimidation, scaring one witness so badly prior to the trial that they refused to testify at all.

Not surprisingly, Reggie Clemons and the three other defendants were found guilty of first degree murder, and all three were given the death penalty. Antonio Richardson’s sentence was ultimately commuted to life in prison.

Marlin Gray was executed by the State of Missouri in October of 2005.

Reggie is the only one left. He had a brief moment of hope, after his trial, when a judge overturned his conviction, siting incorrect selection of the jury. Unfortunately, an appellate court reinstated his death sentence, due to Reggie’s attorneys not filing their paperwork on time, according to the constraints of the law.

The date for his state-sanctioned murder was set for June 17, 2009.

Recently, he was issued a stay of execution due to a challenge questioning the state’s use of lethal injection.

For the moment, Reggie’s life is not in immenent danger, but that will not remain the case for long. It is important that we get the attention of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

Please.

Sign this petition, requesting clemency for Reggie Clemons.

We don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent at this point. What we know for sure is that he is a fellow American, a fellow human being, who has received anything but a fair trial. Not a shred of evidence has been produced to show that he murdered, or had anything to do with the murders of beautiful Julie and Robin Kerry. We don’t know what his role was, if any, in this heinous crime. We owe it to him, to any citizen of this great country, to be sure.

WE ARE NOT SURE.

Reggie Clemons, like any other person on this earth, does not deserve to die, and justice is not served for the family of Robin and Julie Kerry if we sanction the murder of a man, in retaliation for the murder of their beloved daughters. Robin and Julie cannot come back home.

Reggie, if innocent, still can.

Please get involved, as next time, it might be your brother, husband or father whose life is on the line.

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Capital Punishment, Catholic, Conservative, Current Events, Death Penalty, Democrats, Gay Rights, News, Newt Gingrich, Politics, President, Religion, Republicans, Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, Barack Obama and the GOP

Obama has made his decision, nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the new Supreme Court Justice.

From a purely political standpoint, I think this is a genius move on the president’s part.

The GOP, already somewhat hampered due to the stink they made over filibusters during Justices Roberts and Alito’s confirmation hearings, can only complain so much- regardless of whom Obama names- because they don’t want to look like complete hypocrites.

During the Bush Administration, they wanted a simple up-or-down vote for judges… and… well, now they have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.

Normally, especially in politics, hypocrisy would be par for the course- something the Republicans need not think twice about. Currently, however, they stand to lose even more than they can afford to, considering that the GOP’s already critically injured.

Their party is on life-support.

The GOP needs the support of the Latino community… which is exactly Judge Sotomayor’s background. How can they justify fighting to exclude a woman who is Catholic, Latina, and more experienced than either justices Roberts or Alito were at the time of their confirmations?

I don’t think they can.

Gingrich can scream that Judge Sotomayor is racist all he wants to… that seems to be his current plan of attack… but really, no one’s listening to that nonsense.

Personally, the thought of another Catholic on the bench- we currently have 5, not including Sotomayor- makes me a little nervous.

Catholics typically don’t support a woman’s right to choose, gay rights or stem cell research… all things that are very important to me. Sotomayor has not had the opportunity to rule much on those issues, so we don’t really know for sure where she stands.

Hopefully, if confirmed, she will keep her religious beliefs off the bench, ruling instead to preserve the rights of all people- recognizing that the freedom to make individual decisions for ourselves is a bigger priority than exulting her own beliefs from on high.

The greater good and all that.

On the flip side, Catholics tend to be adversaries of the death penalty, and that’s something I would love to see abolished… so who knows…

It would have been nice to see a good lesbian, protestant judge nominated, but I do realize we don’t yet live in a country where such an individual’s confirmation would have been possible.

Still… a person can dream, right?

Posted in Bill Richardson, C-Haze, Capital Punishment, Change, Current Events, Death Penalty, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, Race, Religion, True Crime

New Mexico Governor Repeals Capital Punishment

Today I was happy to read that Governor Bill Richardson has signed a bill aboloshing the death penalty in New Mexico.

I realize that this was a very tough decision for him to make… Richardson does believe that the death penalty- in rare cases- is just punishment for especially heinous crimes.

His statement reads, in part:

Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have the confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime.

The governor’s signing of the bill, as one would expect, was met with some criticism.

The New Mexico Sheriffs’ and Police Association (among others), opposes the bill.

They have issued a statement claiming that the state’s law enforcement officers are now in more danger as a result of the repeal.

The Association would have a point if there was any data whatsoever to show that the death penalty actually serves as a deterrent to crime.

In fact, statistics show states that do not have the death penalty actually have lower murder rates than states that do. In 2007, non-death penalty states had murder rates that were 42% lower than states that carry out the punishment.

42%.

That ain’t a small number…  and certainly not an insignificant one.

People who commit horrific crimes are typically not thinking about the potential consequences of their actions.

Generally speaking, would-be criminals do not walk around saying to themselves…

Gee, I’d really like to rape and murder that kid over there… and I sure would do it too… if it weren’t for that stupid lethal injection I’d probably get.

It just doesn’t happen that way… and available data pretty much proves it.

The death penalty is not a punishment that serves the interest of justice.

On the contrary, it serves the interest of revenge. 

It’s not difficult to understand why families of victims would prefer blood… death… an eye for an eye…

Who wouldn’t?

Human emotion, however, especially in such highly-charged circumstances, does not equate to justice served.

Our justice system- or court system, as I like to call it (in my opinion, it is sickeningly short on justice)- is imperfect, just like the humans who run it.

As long as there is a chance that even one single person could be killed for a crime he or she did not commit… as long as there is classism and racism running rampant in our society…

The only responsible action, in the interest of justice- true justice– is to repeal the death penalty.

New Mexico, while just one state, has done a great thing.

Let’s hope other states follow suit.