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Missouri Supreme Court Hears Clemons Case

Mo. Supreme Court Building
Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Mo. Supreme Court Building

The case of a Missouri death row inmate who accuses police of beating a false confession out of him was heard Tuesday by the State Supreme Court.

Reginald Clemons is seeking to have both his conviction and death sentence tossed out.  He was one of four men convicted in the 1991 rape and murders of Julie and Robin Kerry on the Chain of Rocks bridge at St. Louis.  In 2009 Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners was appointed a special master to look at the case.  In 2012, he released his findings, in which he contends that Clemons was coerced into confessing to the crimes and that the state suppressed that information at trial.  Attorney Joshua Levine represented Clemons before the high court.

“The only question here is whether the court should adopt that finding or whether it can allow Mr. Clemons’ conviction and death sentence to stand, even though that confession was central to the case against him,” Levine said.

Levine also pointed out that former bail investigator Warren Weeks came forward in 2012 and said he saw Clemons three hours after he had been arrested. At that time he said he saw a large bump on Clemons’ face. 

Arguing for the state, attorney Stephen Hawke said Clemons has failed to show that a new trial would have a different outcome.

“The physical evidence from the scene of the crime is not affected at all by the suppression of the statement,” Hawke said.  “Secondly, you had the statement by the co-defendant who described the events at the bridge that evening.”

That co-defendant was Daniel Winfrey, who agreed to testify against Clemons and two other defendants, Antonio Richardson and Marlin Gray.  In exchange, Winfrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  He was paroled in 2007.

Thomas Cummins, the victims’ cousin, was initially thought to be a suspect, and also claimed to have been beaten by police into confessing.  Levine told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that Judge Manners also concluded that it was “blindingly obvious” that St. Louis police detectives had beaten Cummins.  He later received a $150,000 settlement and was not charged in the killings.

Richardson and Gray were also sentenced to death.  Gray was executed in 2005, while Richardson’s sentence was commuted to life without parole.

The Missouri Supreme Court will rule on the case at a later date.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2014 St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.