Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DNA testing delays Clemons hearing

Attorneys for condemned man claim newly presented evidence justifies new trial

By Chris King

Of The St. Louis American

May 10, 2010 will no longer be a day of reckoning in the Reginald Clemons case, as DNA testing of newly presented evidence has forced a delay in the case plan laid out by the special master appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Today Judge Michael Manners, the special master in the Clemons case, reported to Clemons’ counsel, the Missouri Attorney General and the Missouri Supreme Court that a new hearing date would be scheduled after a teleconference with attorneys on April 13.

Manners had been informed on March 25 that Clemons’ attorneys and the State had reached an agreement to submit the new evidence to DNA testing.

Joshua A. Levine, one of Clemons’ attorneys, wrote to Manners that “we are confident that further testing will only serve to confirm what is already established: no physical evidence connects [Clemons] to the crimes.”

In 1993 Clemons was convicted as an accomplice in the murders of Julie Kerry and Robin Kerry. Two days after his interrogation by St. Louis police, after being sent to the hospital for treatment of injuries, Clemons filed a complaint that he had been denied the rights to silence and counsel during his interrogation. He also claimed that his confession was coerced and scripted after an hour and half of beatings.

In this allegedly coerced and scripted confession, he said he raped Robin Kerry but not Julie Kerry. He never confessed to murder, and he has never been tried nor convicted of rape. However, the charge of rape was used as a “sentence enhancer” by prosecutor Nels C. Moss in his successful push for the death penalty.

The newly presented evidence includes a rape kit taken from the corpse identified as Julie Kerry. Robin Kerry’s body never was found.

Also in the newly presented evidence: a condom, clothing that purportedly belonged to Clemons’ codefendant Marlin Gray, and what Manners describes as “a light-colored hair recovered” from Gray’s clothing.

Gray was executed by the State of Missouri in 2005.

Clemons’ execution was scheduled for June 17, 2009 before a federal court issued a stay of execution while it ruled on a separate procedural matter. In the meantime, the Missouri Supreme Court surprisingly opened a new evidence phase by appointing a special master with subpoena powers.

In his original jury trial, Clemons’ attorneys requested any evidence taken from the Kerry corpse in a pre-trial motion. His current attorneys insist the sudden unearthing of this old evidence proves Clemons deserves a new trial.

As Levine wrote to Manners on March 25, “Due process demands that [Clemons] be granted a new trial to fairly evaluate all exculpatory evidence suppressed by the State, which includes not only the rape kit and lab report, but also the draft police report altered by the prosecutor in this case and other evidence uncovered during the discovery process.”

This passage offers a glimpse into even more newly uncovered evidence in this new, unprecedented evidence phase of a man who had been sentenced to die.

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