Friday, June 12, 2009

Reginald Clemons files for clemency

Reginald Clemons formally filed for clemency today (June 12), petitioning Gov. Jay Nixon to take a fresh look at the facts of his case, “unencumbered by the procedural rules” that govern appellate courts, and commute his death sentence.

“With the full support of Reggie’s family, friends, clergy, and others from around the state and the country, we respectfully request that you exercise an historic act of grace, prevent a miscarriage of justice, and spare Reggie’s life,” his attorneys at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Husch Blackwell Sanders urge Nixon.

Clemons’ attorneys have long claimed that his catastrophically incompetent defense counsel in his 1993 jury trial made the appeals process difficult, because so much crucial evidence was not admitted and so many critical objections were not entered into the record. It is important that a governor considering clemency can look at all of the facts in hindsight, not just those permitted by appellate procedure.

“The procedural protections that the legislature and the courts afford to a person accused of a capital offense strengthen the legitimacy of the system of justice by striving to ensure that only the most serious offenses are punished by death, that only the indisputably guilty are executed, and that similar cases are punished with equal severity. Those protections have failed Reggie, but you have the ability to remedy that failure,” his lawyers urge Nixon.

“As governor, you can view this case from a vantage point unencumbered by the procedural rules that have prevented the courts from addressing the infirmities of Reggie’s death sentence. Considering from that vantage point the astonishingly unfair trial in this case, a commutation of Reggie’s death sentence is warranted.”

In a 26-page petition, these are the crucial facts submitted to the governor’s consideration:

· Reggie was 19 at the time of the crime and had no criminal record of any kind.

· In spite of documented evidence of police brutality that resulted in a coerced statement, that he immediately recanted once out of their custody, Reggie never confessed to murder.

· The prosecutor stated at Reggie’s trial that one of his co-defendants caused the victims’ deaths, while a different co-defendant organized the crime. There was no evidence that Reggie was a primary actor at any stage.

· The record included only weak, equivocal evidence to support the essential element that Reggie “deliberated” and therefore committed a death-eligible offense. The maximum sentence under Missouri law for felony murder is life in prison without parole.

· There were numerous errors during the trial, including ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct, which cast substantial doubt on the jury’s death sentence. The prosecutor was also held in criminal contempt and fined for his misconduct during the penalty phase.

· The co-defendant who the State claimed actually caused the victims’ deaths is currently serving a life sentence. Courts in Missouri and elsewhere have found death sentences to be disproportionate where a more culpable co-defendant received a life sentence.

· Two federal judges have found that errors in the selection of the jury rendered the death sentence unfair and unconstitutional, and Reggie’s appeal was not considered on the merits by the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit because that argument had been procedurally defaulted – because his incompetent trial counsel had not raised it.

· A member of the jury at Reggie’s trial vhas submitted an affidavit stating that if she had known these and other facts, vshe would not have voted for the death penalty.
Clemons was scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 17, 2009, at a time he had a federal appeal pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

The federal court has granted an indefinite stay of execution as it rules on the appeal, which concerns the ability of the Missouri Department of Corrections to administer the lethal injection protocol in a way that does not violate the onstitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

When his execution date was scheduled in mid-May, The American asked Clemons what he would say to Nixon if provided the opportunity to address him directly. Clemons said, “Our system of justice is too imperfect to take what you can’t give back.”

In the clemency petition, Clemons’ lawyers request meetings with the governor for themselves and for Clemons personally. Clemons’ mother and stepfather, Vera Thomas and Bishop Reynolds Thomas, met recently with senior members of Nixon’s staff and hand-delivered a letter to Nixon that is extensively reported in this week’s (June 11, 2009) American.


On a personal note, Reginald Clemons called me from death row today. I asked him what was new. He must not have known this petition would be finished and filed today, because he answered, "Nothing, other than this day".

That really struck me: "other than this day". For a condemned man, every day as it manifests itself is news - big news. We could all learn from that.


Image of temple to Caesar's clemency from somebody's blog.

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