This is the bridge where it all happened at a very late hour in April, 1991 in St. Louis, Missouri. Two young white women plunged into the Mississippi River to their deaths. It was a horrible, senseless tragedy. Three African American youths paid for the crime – all sentenced to death. One has been executed, one had his sentence reduced to life imprisonment and the third, Reggie Clemons, is at risk of being executed.
Jamala Rogers, Coordinator of the Justice for Reggie Campaign, Ernest Coverson, Amnesty Midwest Regional Field Organizer, and Laura Moye at the “Chain of Rocks” bridge.
No physical evidence. Just two (white) witnesses, one who initially confessed to the crime, the other implicated the three (black) youths in exchange for a lesser sentence.
The tragedy of Julie and Robin Kerry’s deaths was compounded by a legal process so alarmingly unfair that justice was never really served. And even worse, Reggie Clemons could lose his life with these issues unaddressed. You can take action to prevent this injustice right now.
Yesterday, I visited the old “Chain of Rocks” bridge on my visit to St. Louis along with my colleagues from our Midwest Regional Office. Jamala Rogers, a community activist and Coordinator of the Justice for Reggie campaign, filled in pieces of the story and the history of the campaign she started more than a decade ago. We met with Reggie’s mother Vera and step-father Bishop Thomas for dinner and learned more about the story and how Reggie has been doing in prison. Vera has been visiting her son on death row almost every week these past 17 years. She joked about how she’d worn through cars making the drive so frequently. Despite all that she has been through, a calm resolve shines through Vera’s gentle and gracious spirit.
Today, we will be in front of the old courthouse where Reggie was sentenced to death in 1993. We will join with Amnesty International members in Missouri and our coalition partners to release our new report, “USA: Model Criminal Justice? Death by Prosecutorial Misconduct and a ‘Stacked’ Jury,” about the Clemons case. It speaks volumes about a flawed death penalty system that ought to be abolished.
At the top of the list of issues stacked against Mr. Clemons was the brazen conduct of an overzealous prosecutor, all too common in death penalty cases which are highly politicized. The report also discusses the “stacked” jury, which both did not represent the racial composition of St. Louis and was biased toward the prosecution. Clemons alleged police brutality during his interrogation by police, and his defense attorneys clearly did not prepare adequately for his trial. There was no physical evidence linking Clemons to the crime, only the two witnesses, both of whom were initially charged in the crime, and at the end of the day Clemons was only convicted as an accomplice. Yet he sits on death row.
While the number of problems in Clemons’ case may seem exceptional, these are issues that plague the entire U.S. death penalty. It is all too clear how bias, misconduct and error riddle so many cases. Over 70% of all cases across the country are reversed due to serious error and 138 people have been released from death rows since 1973 after having been wrongfully convicted. Further, a handful of individuals may have been wrongfully executed, such as Cameron Willingham in Texas and Larry Griffin in Missouri.
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