Vera Thomas’ son, Reginald Clemons, has been sitting on death row in the state of Missouri for 19 years in connection with murders she wholeheartedly believes he did not commit.
“He remains hopeful that we will finally get our day in court. We hope the flaws from his original trial will be addressed and we will receive justice,” Mrs. Thomas told The Final Call.
She visited the 40-year-old Black inmate on March 2 at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, MO along with supportive human rights activists.
“I refuse to stop fighting. I retired from my job last year so I could focus more time on Reggie’s case,” said Mrs. Thomas, who worked for the U.S. Dept. of Defense for 32 years.
For the 3rd time since his stay of execution three years ago, Mr. Clemons’ hearing has been pushed back to Sept. 17.
Despite no physical evidence linking him to the St. Louis crime, Mr. Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death in connection with the 1991 deaths of 2 White siblings, Robin and Julie Kerry, who drowned after falling from the Chain of the Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River.
Judge Michael Manners, the special master appointed to review the case by the Missouri Supreme Court, was asked to consider some evidence that had been held in cold storage at the police department’s crime lab.
The attorney general’s office unveiled that the state had discovered three laboratory reports and certain physical evidence, including what is commonly referred to as a rape kit. The evidence had not been previously disclosed as part of Mr. Clemons’ case.
St. Louis activist Jamala Rogers told The Final Call, “Our efforts must not and will not slow down. Reggie told me that this offers us more time to get legally prepared.”
Ms. Rogers spearheads the “Justice for Reggie” campaign. She said since the hearing was originally scheduled for March 5, they had a lot of events lined up that were not cancelled.
“We still went forward with our statewide tour in Jefferson City, Springfield and Columbia to keep the momentum going despite the postponement of the hearing,” she said.
Executions and death sentences on the decline
There have been 1283 people put to death in the United States over the last 36 years according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
Whites have accounted for 720 (56%) of defendants executed, followed by Blacks at 441 (35%) and Latinos at 98 (7%).
The death penalty is active in 34 states and Missouri ranks fifth among executions carried out since 1976 with a total of 68.
In their most recent study, the DPIC found that new death sentences dropped to 78 last year, a decline from 112 in 2010. This marked the 1st time since capital punishment was reinstated that the country had produced less than 100 death sentences in a single year.
Since 1973, 140 innocent men and women have been freed from death row in 26 states according to the DPIC.
“There is no good reason at all to execute anyone. We have to continue to fight, to abolish the death penalty in this country,” said Mrs. Thomas. Mrs. Thomas admits that the Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis in Georgia was very disheartening. “It was sad to see them execute Troy Davis and the proof of his innocence ignored. It could be discouraging if you allow it to be, but I refuse to give up hope,” she said.
Another case of reasonable doubt
“The case of Reggie Clemons represents everything that is wrong with the death penalty and the U.S. criminal justice system,” wrote David Love in a column for the Huffington Post.
Mr. Love is the executive director of Witness to Innocence, an organization headed by exonerated death row survivors. Other groups such as Amnesty International have made Mr. Clemons’ case one of the focal points of the anti-death penalty movement.
The 2 White victims in the case reportedly went missing after visiting the Chain of Rocks Bridge on April 4, 1991 with their White male cousin Tom Cummins.
Mr. Cummins reportedly told police that his cousins had been raped and pushed from the bridge, while he was robbed and forced to jump. He said he survived the nearly 80-foot fall into the water with no injuries.
Mr. Cummins would later retract his confession and the city courts awarded him $150,000 after he charged the St. Louis police with beating the confession out of him.
A then 19-year-old Mr. Clemons found himself being arrested by the police along with 3 Blacks and 1 White suspect who were also hanging out on the bridge that night.
Mr. Clemons told Internal Affairs that he was forced into confessing to raping the victims. 2 detectives allegedly slammed his head repeatedly against the walls of the interrogation room. His account coincided with documented statements made by co-defendant Marlin Gray. However, officers denied the claims.
In February 1993, Mr. Clemons was convicted of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death by a predominately White jury. There has been no physical evidence, fingerprints, DNA or hair samples linking him to the crime.
In 2005, Mr. Gray was put to death by lethal injection. Co-defendant Antonio Richardson is presently serving a life sentence and the lone White co-defendant in the case, Daniel Winfrey, was released on parole in 2007.
On June 17, 2009, Mr. Clemons was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before it was stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“We’re looking forward to having our day in court. I thank all of you who have helped to make Reggie’s case an international story. He is grateful and we’re not going to slow down,” said Mrs. Thomas.
(source: Final Call)