Sunday, June 7, 2009

Missouri death row messenger bird

Reginald Clemons called me from Missouri death row today to thank me and The St. Louis American for reporting relentlessly that his execution had been scheduled by The Missouri Supreme Court when he had an appeal pending in The U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Missouri Supreme Court rejected his request for a stay of execution based on the fact that an appeal is pending. Then, on friday, the federal court granted an indefinite stay of execution while it deliberates on the appeal.

Reginald thanked me and our paper. He said he thought our keeping the fact of his appeal before the public and elected officials played a role in his obtaining a stay of execution.

I very much doubt the federal court would agree that newspaper coverage or public sentiment influenced its ruling on a matter of law and procedure. But a condemned man, like anyone else, searches for meaning and hope in life.

Reginald also told me this story, which also, evidently, gave him hope.

A messenger bird came and sat me with me yesterday.
From 7:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon.
It sat on a pipe outside the rec cage.
A guard threw pebbles at it, it was sitting so still.
But, still, it didn’t move.
It just sat there with me, all day.
It moved in the four cardinal directions –
In three of the four cardinal directions –
As the sun moved across the sky.
And I knew that bird came to me
To bring the prayers of the people
Who have been praying for me.
I punctuated it like a poem, which is how I heard it.

Then, he rushed off the phone. "I don't have very many cell phone minutes left," he said. "And I need to call my mother tomorrow."

There is nothing quite like being told by a condemned man that he doesn't have many cell phone minutes left.


Image by local pasture bird from Honduras perched on a prison wire by Larry Handal.

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