Did Death Sentences in US Increase or Decrease Last Year?

2014 death penalty top 5Amnesty International released its annual death penalty report last week, Death Sentences and Executions 2014, which tracks all known use of the death penalty on the planet from the past year. The report shows a large increase in global death sentences of 28%.

But the news isn’t all bad. Here in the United States, the death penalty’s steady decline continues unabated.


Tense Night In Ferguson: Update From the Amnesty Team

Amnesty delegates in Ferguson.

Amnesty delegates in Ferguson.

As Amnesty International delegates head into their second week monitoring the tense situation in Ferguson, they’re learning first-hand what protesters on the ground have been dealing with since tensions flared after the shooting of an unarmed teen.

Last night, Twitter followers asked whether the Amnesty team encountered any problems as they tried to leave Ferguson on police orders. The team sent in this account:

Last night in Ferguson, after 11:00 pm CT, police were on loudspeaker announcing that anyone who was not credentialed media must leave the area. The Amnesty observer delegation decided to leave. They walked to leave the area, which required them to move toward police who were holding guns. The Amnesty observers put their hands up proactively as a sign that they did not hold weapons and were not a threat. A police officer stopped them and told the first three observers to kneel, which they did. The observers explained to an officer that they were human rights observers who were leaving as requested and they were granted passage.


BREAKING: Judge Issues Findings in Reggie Clemons Case


Judge Michael Manners, the Special Master reviewing the case of Reggie Clemons, has submitted his findings to the Missouri Supreme Court.

He finds that prosecutors suppressed evidence (a “Brady violation”) and writes that he believes the statement Reggie Clemons gave to police was coerced. He also writes that he does not believe that Clemons has established a “gateway claim of actual innocence.” It is a complex case, and serious allegations of misconduct by prosecutors and police appear to have been affirmed.


A Mother Speaks: “I Don’t Want To Lose My Son to the Death Penalty”

Vera Thomas

Vera Thomas

By Vera Thomas, Reggie Clemons’ Mother

When my son was young, he would say, “When I grow up I want to invent things.” Reggie as a young boy was always a people person. Almost 30 years later, he sits on death row, and I’m waiting to see whether or not the state of Missouri will take my son’s life. This is a parent’s worst nightmare.

My son’s name is Reginald Clemons, but we call him Reggie. He has been on Missouri’s death row for 21 years. No mother can truly imagine that there may come a day where she may have to watch her son take his last breath, listen to his last words and watch him executed. Last year, Reggie was granted an opportunity where his case would be reviewed by a judge who would then recommend to the Missouri Supreme Court whether or not my son should live or die. As we await the judge’s recommendations – expected to be announced by June 1st – I want you to understand a few things about my son, his case and just how flawed the death penalty system is.

Then I hope you will take action to stop Reggie’s execution and join the movement to abolish the death penalty in the state of Missouri and beyond.


More Evidence of Misconduct In Reggie Clemons Case

Reggie Clemons

New evidence has emerged reinforcing the contention that Reggie Clemons’ trial was marred by misconduct; a judge’s recommendations are expected by June 1 (Photo Credit: Color of Justice).

On March 18, the final oral arguments in the “Special Master” investigation of Reggie Clemons‘ case were held in Independence, Missouri. Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in 1993 after a disturbingly flawed investigation and trial.

At the Clemons hearing before Special Master Judge Michael Manners last September, evidence of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct in his case was presented, and this month that evidence was reinforced by new testimony of a bail investigator named Warren Weeks.

In a video-taped deposition, Weeks said that he saw evidence that Clemons had been brutalized – a golf-ball sized bump on his head – and that he submitted a written report of this observation. Weeks testified that prosecutor Nels Moss attempted to intimidate him about the report. The report obtained by Clemons’ current attorneys and presented to Judge Manners had the word “bump” or “bruise” scratched out.


Reggie Clemons Hearing: More To Come

reggie clemons hearing st. louis missouri

Amnesty team waiting to enter the Reggie Clemons hearing, Sept 17, 2012

The Special Master hearing to review the Reggie Clemons case was halted on Thursday, but with more testimony and legal filings to come. In fact, the Special Master process looks to continue well into next year.  Given what’s at stake, and given the troubling nature of the case, taking more time is not a bad thing.

The allegations of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct which feature prominently in Amnesty International’s report on the case were highlighted during the hearing. The alleged police abuse of Clemons, and the similar abuse of the state’s star witness Tom Cummins – acknowledged by a $150,000 settlement – are particularly disturbing and call into question the fairness of the investigation and prosecution in this case.


A Father Speaks Out: Don’t Let My Son Die

reggie clemons family Reynolds Thomas Vera Thomas

Rev. Reynolds Thomas and Vera Thomas have been fighting to keep their son Reggie Clemons from being executed in Missouri despite a strong case for innocence and gross prosecutorial misconduct.

By Rev. Reynolds Thomas

Next week is very important — you see, it will help determine whether my son will live or die. My son’s name is Reginald Clemons, but we call him Reggie. He has been on Missouri’s death row for about 20 years now. On Monday the 17th, his case will be reviewed by a judge for what could be the last time.

Chances like this don’t happen often and we are grateful for this special opportunity. Before we reach that step, I want you to understand a few things about the case, my son and just how fatal the flaws of the death penalty system can be.

Then I hope you’ll send a letter of support to Reggie — for strength, for compassion, for justice. I’ll give it to him personally before the hearing.

The state of Missouri has accused my son of killing two young women — pushing them into the Mississippi River in April 1991. The pain the family of these two girls has suffered after such a staggering loss is unfathomable. But from the beginning, the case against Reggie has been riddled with grave and glaring problems:


The Reggie Clemons Interview: ‘I Know I’m Innocent’

Today, in the third part of “Death Penalty On Trial”, its multimedia examination of the Reggie Clemons case, The Guardian features an interview with Reggie himself.  In it, he maintains his innocence, discusses his version of what happened the night the Kerry sisters died, and describes the alleged beating he took at the hands of police.

“If you believe that somebody’s willing to beat you to death, while they’re beating you they can just about get you to admit anything.”

Watch for yourself:


Reggie Clemons: Death Row Inmate Getting Another Chance

Reggie Clemons

Will Missouri execute Reggie Clemons despite so many doubts?

Reggie Clemons has been on Missouri’s death row for about 20 years, and as the Sept. 17 date for his hearing with a Special Master approaches, more and more attention is being focused on his case.

Today, The Guardian launched a multimedia examination of the case, including an introductory overview piece, the following video, and a moving sidebar about the Julie and Robin Kerry, the two sisters who lost their lives plunging from the Chain of Rocks Bridge on April 5, 1991.

Absolute Power Corrupts, Human Rights Protect

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  That’s what Lord Acton, an English baron and historian, said back in the 19th century.  A century earlier, and on this side of the pond, Thomas Paine famously wrote:  “An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.”

reggie clemmons

Reggie Clemons

One of the most absolute powers the state can have is the power to kill its prisoners.  There are two death penalty cases featured in this years’ Write for Rights that illustrate how enthusiasm for this ultimate punishment can corrupt the application of otherwise good laws.

Murder is a terrible crime, and making it illegal is a good law.  But in the cases of Reggie Clemons in Missouri, and Fatima Hussein Badi in Yemen, police brutality during the investigations, and over-aggressive prosecutions and inadequate defense during court proceedings have thoroughly derailed any legitimate quest of justice.