The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out the 1st-degree murder convictions for Reginald Clemons, who had been sentenced to death for a 1991 double-murder on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Clemons had been fighting his conviction and death sentence in the 1991 rape and killing of sisters Julie and Robin Kerry.
In a 4-3 decision written by Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge, the Court threw out the convictions and sentences for 1st-degree murder and sent the case back to circuit court.
The state has 60 days to retry Clemons. If it does not, the case will be dismissed, and Clemons will remain in prison on a 15-year sentence in different case.
Reached on the phone, Richard Kerry, father of the victims, said, "I'm not going to express any opinion at this point in time."
Michael Manners, a retired judge appointed as by the state's highest court as "special master" to review Clemons' case, concluded that St. Louis prosecutors wrongly suppressed evidence and that detectives beat Clemons into confessing to the crimes.
The judge said those factors were unlikely to change the verdict but were not harmless mistakes as the state claimed.
The Supreme Court had the power to do anything with Clemons' case, from leaving him on death row to tossing out his conviction.
Clemons was among 4 men convicted of raping and murdering sisters Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, on the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in April 1991.
A jury convicted Clemons without physical evidence of rape. He was sentenced to death in 1993.
In testimony during a rare, special hearing on his case more than 2 years ago, Clemons asserted his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself more than 30 times.
In the past, he has acknowledged being on the bridge the night of the killings but claims police beat a confession out of him and was railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor.
Manners also concluded that Clemons' death sentence "was not disproportionate," considering that Clemons' co-defendant, Marlin Gray, was executed for the crime in 2005, Manners concluded. In Gray's case, the state's high court ruled the death penalty was appropriate punishment.
The Kerry sisters led a visiting cousin, Thomas Cummins, then 19, to the unused bridge span on the night of April 5, 1991, to show him a poem they had scrawled there, but they ended up encountering a group of men. The women were raped, and they and Cummins were forced into the Mississippi River. Only Cummins survived.
Police identified the suspects as Clemons, Gray, Antonio Richardson and Daniel Winfrey. Winfrey testified in exchange for a 30-year term and has been paroled. The others were sentenced to death. Gray was executed; Richardson's penalty was later changed to life without parole.
Clemons was weeks from being executed in June 2009 when the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals blocked it. The Missouri Supreme Court then agreed to consider the case.
Judges Laura Denvir Stith and Richard B. Teitelman concurred with Breckenridge, as did Lisa White Hardwick, a special judge assigned to rule in the Clemons case.
Judges Paul C. Wilson, Zel M. Fischer and Mary R. Russell voted against granting Clemons' petition.
Source: stlouistoday.com, November 24, 2015