Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New evidence will be considered in Clemons case

Missouri Supreme Court appoints special master in appeals

By Chris King
Of The St. Louis American

In what could be the turning point in a landmark case, the Missouri Supreme Court has in effect opened the way for the presentation of new evidence in the case of Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons.

On Tuesday the Court appointed Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael W. Manners to serve as a special master in the case. This is a response to Clemons’ most recent petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

According to the order, Manners is appointed "with full power and authority to issue subpoenas" and to "compel production of books, papers, and documents and the attendance of witnesses."

The Court ordered that the judge is empowered to hear evidence and have it transcribed "to the same extent as this Court might in a trial before it" – which opens the way for the presentation of new evidence.

For many years Clemons’ lawyers have bemoaned the incompetence of his counsel in his 1993 jury trial for the murders of Robin Kerry and Julie Kerry. Because of Clemons’ trial counsel’s spotty record introducing evidence, summoning witnesses and raising objections, Clemons has been severely limited in the appeals process.

Clemons’ petition for clemency from Gov. Jay Nixon makes this point and urges Nixon to take advantage of his opportunity to consider all of the evidence in the case, not just the trial record or the appellate material.

In effect, this order will enable the Missouri Supreme Court to enrich the material it can consider in ruling on Clemons’ appeal. Among many other developments sure to be brought to the attention of Manners is that a juror from the 1993 trial has since said she would not have voted for the death penalty had more complete evidence been presented in trial.

Also, as reported in The St. Louis American, prosecutor Nels C. Moss recently admitted on The Charles Jaco show that he withheld forensic evidence from Clemons’ defense counsel.
Moss admitted to Jaco and Redditt Hudson of the ACLU that he was the last person in the custody chain in possession of clothing recovered from the body of Julie Kerry.

"Had the defense asked for it, it was theirs," Moss said.

In fact, as reported in The American, Clemons’ counsel specifically did ask for the clothing in a pretrial motion to compel discovery of evidence.

Clemons – whose execution had been set for June 17 – currently has a federal stay of execution while a federal appeals court considers a separate appeal based upon the Missouri Department of Corrections’ ability to administer lethal injection without violating the constituional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The telescope that made a Vietnamese karoake record

We have here the reason why two Grammy nominations went to a guy in a home studio in Midtown St. Louis last year.

When I moved home from New York five years ago, my old friend Adam long had accumulated an apartment full of astronomical gear in my absence. He had a bunch of telescopes, with this being the biggest, and was just about to buy one even bigger and better than this.

At the same time, he was a recording studio gypsy, renting rooms and paying room rates all over town to engineer the projects he was recording. Offhandedly, with no sense that I was changing his life (or even leaving an impression on this supremely willful dude), I suggested he do without the bigger and better telescope and begin to invest in a home studio instead.

Five years later, he seldom works anywhere but in his living room. In that room, he mixed an original Broadway cast recording and a gospel hiphop record that both made Grammy shortlists last year. That's also where he mixes the projects I produce with Poetry Scores.

I am thinking of this because Adam just thanked me for a client referral. My wife and I are regulars at Miss Saigon on the Loop, and friendly with the owners. They have confided in us that they love to sing Vietnamese karaoke.

At some point I mentioned that one of my best friends is a Grammy-nominated recording engineer who would probably work for delicious Vietnamese food, and is affordable anyway. I guess they finally took me up on the suggestion and called Adam.

"Thanks to me," I told Adam, when he called to thank me, "you are recording your first Vietnamese karoake record."
A pause while he thought. "No," he said. "Second."

The Attitudes hat on the telescope, by the way, is from what used to be his favorite lesbian bar. I say "used to be". Adam is a passionate scholar on the subject of lesbian bars. It's not possible to say what is his favorite at any moment without asking him - at that moment.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

S&H towing scam yields first indictment

A lawyer close to this case said a number of "white shirts" (police officials, active and retired) will soon follow.


U.S. Attorney's Office press release

St. Louis, MO: Gregory P. Shepard was indicted on multiple charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, and bribery, all involving his operation of the S & H Parking Systems, Acting United States Attorney Michael W. Reap announced today.

According to the indictment, Shepard served as the General Operations Manager for S&H Parking Systems and its affiliated businesses, located at 1325 North 10th Street, St. Louis. S & H Parking Systems is affiliated with St. Louis Metropolitan Towing and Parks Auto Sales, at the same location. St. Louis Metropolitan Towing has a contract with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to tow vehicles designated by the department. Parks Auto Sales titles and sells a large number of vehicles towed by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.

St. Louis Metropolitan Towing took custody of vehicles designated by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, rental car companies, and other private entities. According to applicable laws and regulations, the last titled owner and lien holders associated with a towed vehicle were supposed to be notified of the tow through certified mail within ten days of the vehicle being towed. Regulations require that titled owners and lien holders be given 30 days to retrieve their vehicles after receiving notice. If vehicles are not retrieved within 30 days of notification, S&H Parking Systems or one of its affiliated companies can purchase the vehicles and obtain original titles for the vehicles by submitting various forms to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Collectively, these forms contain representations that: (a) the titled owner or lien holder had been given notice by certified mail; (b) at least 30 days had expired since the notice; (c) the vehicles had been inspected; (d) the forms were accurate as to the identity of the seller, purchase price, purchase date; and (e) the vehicles had been purchased by S&H Parking Systems, or one of its affiliated companies, at a police auction. Typically, vehicles with original titles have higher resale values than vehicles with just salvage titles.

The indictment alleges that between approximately October 2004 and August 2008, Shepard devised a scheme to defraud vehicle owners, lien holders and purchasers of vehicles towed by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing and affiliated businesses. Despite representations made to the Missouri Department of Revenue, Shepard and others gave no notice, or delayed notice, to vehicle owners and/or lien holders of vehicles towed by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.

On other occasions, Shepard falsely told vehicle owners or lien holders that vehicles were no longer held by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing or its affiliated companies when the vehicles were actually still being held by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing or its affiliated companies. On many occasions, Shepard allegedly made false statements to titled owners of towed vehicles which resulted in artificially inflated storage fees.

According to the indictment, an employee from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department passed vehicles for inspection despite obvious flaws. Shepard made many cash payments to the employee of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for conducting these faulty inspections.

In addition, according to the indictment, between approximately October 2004 and August 2008, Shepard defrauded Avis/Budget Group by fraudulently inflating mileage on rental cars towed by St. Louis Metropolitan Towing.

The indictment also charges that Shepard, being a Member of the Board of the St. Louis Policemen's Credit Union, notarized a Bill of Sale showing that a vehicle repossessed earlier from a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer was being purchased from the St. Louis Policemen's Credit Union by an independent third party known as Grant Auto Sales. The vehicle was actually purchased by Parks Auto Sales for $1,400, resold by Parks Auto Sales for $3,100, and the profit of $1,700 was never returned to the St. Louis Policemen's Credit Union.
Shepard, 52, was indicted by a federal grand jury one seven felony counts of mail fraud, two felony counts of bribery involving federal programs, one felony count of wire fraud, and one felony count of making false entries.

If convicted, mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000; bribery carries a maximum penalty of ten years prison and/or fines up to $250,000; wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years prison and/or fines up to $250,000; and false entries carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and/or fines up to $1,000,000.

Reap commended the work on the case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Postal Inspection Service; and Assistant United States Attorney’s Jeffrey Jensen and Hal Goldsmith, who are handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

St. Louis American cartoon by Kevin Belford.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In memory of Kpakpo Mensah, my wife's father

Sad week in our house. On Monday morning we learned that my wife's father, Kpakpo Mensah, had died in Accra, Ghana. He was 78 and will be sorely missed.

I still have a lot to learn about him, but in a way that is a good thing. It doesnt mean I wasn't interested in him, it means he never presented himself as a problem. He was always highly positive and pleasant to me, and in our visits home to West Africa I was content to leave it at that.

By the time Kpakpo and I met one another, he was through with making whatever trouble he made for other people in his life, and I also was a reasonably settled and mature adult. Never did a son in law endure less macho guff from a father in law than I did with Kpakpo. He was pleased his daughter had found a husband, and he shared his pleasure freely with us.

There is a crosscultural pattern in play here that my wife explained to me. "In Africa, when you go to America and marry a white man they think you are a prostitute," Karley explained. "Unless you come home and marry in the traditional way. Then people accept you and your marriage."

I used to study and teach African material, and I remain a passionate amateur scholar and armchair cultural anthropologist in the field. So of course I was really eager to get married in the traditional way.

I enjoyed buying the gin for the old men and seeing the haggling that remains as a contemporary vestige of bride price. I loved being handed the beads from the village with the old juju spirits in them - as evidenced by the church ladies needing to pray the old spirits out of the beads!

I didn't know that my interest in and affection for tradition would make me and my marriage more accepted back home, but I wasn't surprised either to find that was the case. Since we got married on our first trip home, this eased the way with Kpakpo and me, and the way stayed easy.

I know a bit more about him, and will learn and share even more later, but for now I am just cherishing one of the relationships in my life, in our lives, that was never anything but positive and pleasant. In a life that is full of conflict and struggle, we never struggled. I loved Kpakpo. I will miss him terribly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Portrait of Roy Blunt, getting his Mormon schmooze on

Last September, Gladys Knight's new Mormon choir, Saints Unified Voices, performed at a stake in Hazelwood as part of a missionary service. My wife and I attended, on the invite of a Latter Day Saints friend, and to occupy my mind I spent the service sketching faces from the choir.

Since this was part of a worship service, held in a stake (LDS name for church), my sketches were the only visual record of the performance; photographs were not allowed. There also was a growing public awareness that the former Pip had converted to this somewhat exotic faith and was leading a choir. These two factors combined made my sketches of Gladys Knight's Mormon choir on this blog something of a modest internet sensation.

Last night the same friend extended a VIP invitation for us to see The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its first St. Louis performance since 1958. She urged me, "Bring your sketchbook!" so I did, but it was an altogether different scene. The choir performed on the floor of what is typically a big hockey rink, not in a cozy stake, and camera flashes were popping from all corners. Not complaining here, our seats were just fine, but I also wasn't close enough to sketch any faces.

The VIP reception beforehand was a different story, however. It was attended by the Missouri Republican elite. Latter Day Saints are understood to be a reliable bloc of deeply conservative voters with a tradition of volunteerism - Republican red meat.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was getting out of his truck as we were crossing the parking garage, and former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent sat near us. U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, the GOP's current senatorial aspirant, held court at the reception, and I sketched him in this act, gesturing with his left hand like someone giving orders or making an emphatic point.

My schtick is to ask people to sign my sketches of them. As the VIP reception was breaking up for the concert proper, I approached Blunt, thinking to get his John Hancock. In fact, I would have been getting a John Ashcroft, for it was the former U.S. Attorney General and not Roy Blunt whom I was bumrushing, as I realized at the very last moment.

What can I say? They part their hair on the same side. And they all - by this, I mean every politician, and for that matter almost every man at the reception - dress in the same outfit.

The concert was great, by the way. Ashcroft - described a little ridiculously as "General Ashcroft" - was invited to conduct the finale, which seemed to have been the ride of his life. I could have done without it. But it was their party, and they can honor whomever they want to.

Mayor Francis G. Slay, a Democrat by name, was in the house (sat with his wife directly behind my wife and me during the concert, as a matter of fact) and seemed very comfortable in this crowd. I was trying to grant the man some privacy on a night out with his wife, and I'm not very interested in him personally, though I think that was him and another man from his group who stood behind us and very enthusiastically applauded Ashcroft on the bandstand, complete with hoots and hollers.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Journalism has been very, very good to me

When I was in Atlanta recently to accept an award for investigative journalism from New America Media, it occurred to me that this was my third trip to Atlanta as a journalist on someone else's dime.

When I was a travel editor for a New York magazine, Ringling Bros. flew me to Atlanta to see a new boutique circus show they were unveiling. Last year, I had a fellowship with The Association of Health Care Journalists, and they flew our fellowship group to visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And now an association of ethnic media was dropping some coin on me to come pick up a certificate.

I'm not one to take good fortune for granted. I grew up with no money, not much ambition - a drug kid who was good at school, but had a sense of hopelessness that kept me from imagining my future or trying to prepare for it. Really, I owe it to the U.S. Navy and its prestigious NROTC scholarship for snapping me out of it.

As for journalism, I owe rock & roll for that. In graduate school for English literature, I started a rock band that opened for Uncle Tupelo when they were just starting to get famous. I wrote about the show, which was pretty amazing, and showed my story to their manager, Tony Margherita. He told me I should submit it to the local alternative weekly in St. Louis.

"They broke us, and they take pride in that," Tony said, sitting on his couch with his cordless phone, in a time before cell phones. "I bet they would go for something like this." He was right. Features editor Cliff Froehlich did go for it - and I have been getting paid to produce jounalism ever since precisely then.

I suppose I am carrying on about all this tonight because I was just picking which shows I want to see next month at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. As I was choosing silent films with live music, Vieux Farka Toure, Ornette Coleman Quartet and The Bell Orchestre among the shows I want to see, I remembered my previous trip to this great island city in Quebec.

I went up there as a travel editor to experience Mondial de la Biere, the Montreal beer festival. Getting paid to drink beer, those were the days. Just like getting paid to go to the circus or learn about disease prevention and control. Getting paid to listen to jazz - those, too, will be the days.

But then again, getting paid to hold accountable dubious elected officials and the criminal justice system in a corrupt old former slaveholding town like St. Louis - these, too, are the days.


Picture is of me with Kelley Weiss of NPR Sacramento and Joy Robertson of KOLR 10 Springfield, Mo., my fellow fellows with The Association of Health Care Journalists.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Father's Day portrait of her dad and her house

Last night, my daughter surprised me with an early Father's Day card. On the front was a portrait of her dad, and on the inside a picture of what seems to be a happy home.

Of course, I was deliriously happy and smothered her with loving kisses. As a child of a home that was not happy nor always safe, it means the world to me that my daughter feels safe and happy in her house.

The house is emblazoned with declarations of love, emphasized with exclamation points. A few flowers poke up placidly from the grass.

Needless to say, my Father's Day is guaranteed to be a very happy one. In fact, it was already off to a good early start. As I said here yesterday, my friend Tom McDermott has released his new record that includes "Leyla's Lullaby," a piece he composed in honor of my daughter's birth.

Pictures, songs: These are the forms of wealth and connection that have always mattered to me. I am a wealthy man and a proud, happy father.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lullaby for Leyla Fern by Tom McDermott

When our daughter was born, my friend Tom McDermott got the news, along with everybody else with a pulse and a connection to my wife Karley or me.

Tom is a little different, though. He is a jazz composer and pianist based in New Orleans. He was kind enough to offer a song as a natal gift.

He composed a song for our daughter, Leyla Fern King. An early version of it, piano only, was titled "Lullaby for Leyla Fern".

He later added cellist Helen Gillet to the track and has now released their duet as "Leylas Lullaby" on the new Tom McDermott CD, New Orleans Duets.

Tom said I could share this song when his record was ready. Highly recommended!

Free mp3

"Leyla's Lullaby"
(Tom McDermott)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cosmic union of lumber salesman and journalist

I'll enjoy tracing the confluences that put me together at a brewpub in Asheville, North Carolina with Ed Herron, a salesman of hardwood lumber, long enough to discover that we are both reading Ulysses by James Joyce, and had both advanced roughly as far into the practically impenetrable book.

I ran away from graduate school to play rock music in the early 1990s. When I came off the road, I would bury myself in the basement of the university music library. There I discovered on old LPs Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, and of what I taped the two performances that stabbed deepest into my heart were two by Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

I covered a massive gay rights march in Washington, D.C. for an alternative newsweekly. In a break in the action, I marched into the Library of Congress Archive of Folksong and asked about this Lunsford fellow. A librarian wrote out a number for me of a man in Chicago, who comes in on a regular basis and is a descendent.

I met this man in Chicago, before a band gig at The Cabaret Metro. He was a pastor who used music to heal and knew an awful lot about "Uncle Bascom": he had been a beekeeper, fruit tree salesman and country lawyer, who puzzled his family and neighbors by giving away and trading his valuable goods and services in exchange for songs.

I met this man in Asheville, and he took me down South Turkey Creek Road to the home of Lunsford's daughter, Jo Herron, a retired but scrappy senior citizen. Jo eventually opened up to us and made copies of rare recordings and materials to take away, but I was struck by the odd feeling that she had no idea who this man was who presented himself as her cousin.

I petitioned The Smithsonian record label to reissue the one Folkways release of Lunsford, which it now owned, with bonus material on the relatively new medium of CD. I was surprised to get a letter back expressing interest and asking me to put the family in touch with them for permission.

Jo was impressed with my diligence. She opened up to me and admitted, "I don't know that man from Adam's housecat," mean the Chicago pastor, whom I immediately lost touch with and elect to categorize, in the mists of memory, as a tutelary spirit, rather than actual human being.

Jo Lunsford Herron knows how to run a show. She raised the money and curated the recording, had it mastered and celebrated the release of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford reissue on Smithsonian/Folkways at Mars Hill College, which hosts his archive. I was thanked from the podium and in the liner notes as project catalyst.

I continued my love affair with the music of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, recording cover versions of songs he collected - in an A-frame cabin on Jo's land, near where Bascom had once called square dances - and initiating a major archival reissue with a label based (where else?) in Chicago. This has dragged on for years, as difficult volunteer efforts are known to do.

Jo aged. She called one day to put me in touch with her son, Ed Herron. She wanted someone in the family to know how close Jo and I had become, how much I cared about the legacy of her daddy, how I had her permission to work with these valuable materials from their family's past. Joe died.

Last year, when I came to southeastern North Carolina to visit extended family, I drove up to Asheville (some five hours) to meet Ed. We visited the Bascom Lamar Lunsford archive at Mars Hill College. We left feeling like brothers.

This summer, I wanted to do it all over again, but logistics left us only a couple of hours for an early dinner and beers in town. We hardly talked about the project. This was much more a meeting of brothers, heart stuff, hard stuff, life as we are living it.

Ed started one of many stories, "So, I'm reading Ulysses by James Joyce -"

I halted him and produced my copy from my satchel. He was awestruck. We are middle-aged men, a lumber salesman and a journalist, who do not work in academia. We not graduate students or ambitious twenty-somethings trying to read The Great Books in one summer. We are not in Ulysses' target market.

Ed grabbed my copy of the book. He grasped it. He felt my bookmark, a drawing by my daughter. "I am about exactly this far into it," he said with wonder, pinching where I was in my reading.

He told his Ulysses story. Then I told mine. They are both a little private, a little overtly spiritual, for this public medium, but when I called Ed the next day, he said, "That was cosmic" and I said, "It was."

It was.


My picture of Ed is from last summer. He looks about the same now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Keep the desert island - a long road trip will do

I dearly hope I am never stranded on a desert island. Should that sad fate befall me, however, and I get as little time to pack for the trip as I devoted to my past ten days on the road in the American Southeast, I could do much worse than this handful of records that have been keeping me company.

In packing, hurriedly, after a punishing newspaper deadline, I thought first of the one solo leg of the journey, when I would leave the family behind in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to see friends and cherished sights in Asheville.

For those ten hours round-trip, alone on the road, I knew I could use a low-key, impenetrable mind-expander like Automatic Writing by Robert Ashley, the sort of record you could play again the moment you are finished hearing it and hear new things the next time through. It is a collection of three experimental pieces with the single most elegant liner notes I can ever remember reading on a record, penned by Ashley himself.

Fortunately, my sleep-deprived mind did remember that this fly-and-drive family sojourn included an even longer round trip (Atlanta-Fayetteville) when my wife would be co-pilot. Karley is not one for conceptual records about the relationship between the structures of automatic speech and musical composition, so I packed some easy-on-the-ears comfort music: none easier on our collective ears than Let's Get Out of This Country by Camera Obscura.

Unfortunately for me, I also elected to spin this one on my solo excursion, which served only to deepen my pointless, painful, futile fanboy crush on Camera Obscura frontwoman and songstress Tracyanne Campbell. Sigh. Hit "play" on the first track on the record again. Dream.
The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's recording of Messiaen's Turangalila-symphonie is another of those I keep handy when I need to pack light and can expect repeat listenings. (The attentive reader will have gleaned by now that I do not yet own an iPod. Can't justify why not, just don't.)

This piece needs to be heard to be believed. Sounds to me like a gamelan orchestra more than a symphony orchestra, though rounded out by a horn section instructed to play like Russian soliders contemplating suicide, and fronted by a pianist who could be playing transcriptions of Thelonious Monk scoring, live, a silent film about ice storms on Mars.

Thinking up junk like that is what I do when I am driving five hours across North Carolina - quite a nice state to traverse, by the way, speaking as an Illinois native. Remember that in Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck made it across my home state in one sentence.

(The Carnegie Hall site has the ever-brilliant Paul Schiavo explicating the Turangalila with musical examples - check it out.)

Also had to have on hand some comfort music that I could turn up really, really loud and feel twenty-five years-old again. When I was twenty-five, the boys in Band of Horses were probably in middle school, but their debut record Everything All the Time gets me in the indie rock G-spot. No idea what, if anything, any of it is all about - never want to know. Just need to turn it up really loud and feel really young and rootless and confused every so often.

I also tend to always travel with a new discovery that bears additional, perhaps obsessive, listens, and this is the case with Jack Endino's most recent solo effort, Permanent Fatal Error.

Endino is best-known as a producer (Nirvana, other grunge bands, loads of recent heavy metal) and a guitar player (Skinyard), but on this record he proves to be a very talented songwriter, band leader and singer.

I am proud to have received my copy of this inspired rock record as a gift from Endino himself. As I have carried on about, no doubt boastfully, I visited with him at his studio in Seattle earlier this year, having done my very best to stay in touch with him after putting up Skinyard in St. Louis in the early 1990s.

I packed another newer acquisition that has not yet been burned in its entirety onto the grooves of my brain, though we are getting there: Prokofiev: Works for Violin and Piano by the brother-sister dynamo team of Gil Shaham and Orli Shaham.

I have been recommending this record to friends of mine with a thirst for intense, inventive music who have not yet developed an ear for classical music, perhaps because they associate classical music (as I did, for a long time) with the pompous, Romantic fare that tends to dominate mediocre classical music radio.
These Prokofiev piano-violin duets, on the other hand, are hair-raising musical excursions, far more punk rock than most punk rock, edgy and alarming. I couldn't find a decent image of their album cover, so that is my sketch of Orli in performace with the SLSO.
She is married to our symphony's musical direction, David Robertson, by the way, though I give them equal star billing - very bright, very high stars, though not distant. Watch out for their kids.

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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Selected juju boxes of Dak Maverick of Athens, Georgia

Here are more images I took on Saturday of work by my buddy George Davidson, aka Dak Maverick, of Athens, Georgia. Click on any image to get a bigger and better view.

These first two images are side panels of one of his boxes, which I call juju boxes. Often but not always, George adorns the exterior of his juju boxes with the same iconic imagery he has been carving into blocks and printing for decades: blues, serpents, violence, chance, masks.

This is the box with those two side panels. Love the knob hockey wing player transformed with the African mask!

He often illuminates his boxes with colored slides, to eerie effect.

Healthy portion of goofball humor in George's game, which fits the sacred clown paradigm that rules much of his outlook on art and life. He and I share the black cat as totemic figure as well.

Note piano keys as frame motif. Everything George does is dominated by music. He is a record collector and gifted saxophone player and composer/improviser.

Just like him to stick a gauge - an image of science and the urge to quantify nature - on a stump of salvaged wood then make it into the basis for a juju mask.

While we were hanging out, he was riffing like hell on the image on the panel he stuck onto this box: of a pirate ship on the verge of the void. I take it as a comment on our civilization at the moment.

Here a jazzman is joined by the ever-present dice (chance, luck, cosmic uncertainty) and reeds from one of George's own musical instruments.

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.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jazz destroyers, juju masks, scavenged materials

This afternoon I had the good fortune to visit a couple of hours with my longtime soul brother George Davidson in Athens, Georgia. I spent some time taking pictures of his artwork and will be posting up images in sets. This is George's Jazz Destroyer sculpture.

This is a detail from Jazz Destroyer. George makes ample use of kitschy elements and is quite the flea market hound collecting materials.

This painting grew out of images he painted on the sides of one of his juju boxes. These are iconic images that George has been putting into his prints for decades. The wood this is painted on was part of a speaker.

Detail of an etched panel. Jazz instruments and Indians - very Dak. (One of George's artistic nom de plumes is "Dak Maverick".)

Juju mask from scavenged materials.

Sculpture from same. Love the minimalism here.

A little more eye candy and ornamentation to this guy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Me at the 2009 National Ethnic Media Awards in Atlanta

In a sense, this is the picture I flew to Atlanta yesterday to get: me with the journalist who beat me in the In Depth/Investgative category of New America Media's 2009 Ethnic Media Awards. Her name is Kai Ma and her winning story about the gay marriage controversy in California's Korean communities "To have and to hold" appeared in KoreAm Journal (Los Angeles). My story "New beginning?" about fire department promtions in St. Louis was the runner-up.

Sandy Close, the semi-legendary longtime executive director of Pacifica News Service, founded and runs New America Media as an association of ethnic media. She was really pumped to have CNN anchor Richelle Carey emcee the show last night.

It was a night of highlights. Phillip Lee was one. He won in Commentary for an op-ed attacking the LPGA for a policy targeting non-English speaking golfers. It appeared in the all-volunteer Korean Quarterly (Minneapolis) and was the first piece he had ever written.

Vicky Gutierrez has voluptuous looks and a dramatic self-presentation that precedes her, but once she started talking she was all heart and intellect. She won Best Reporting on a Community Issue (TV) for a piece she did on KVEA Telemundo 52 (Los Angeles) about child farm workers.

"Which one do you think is the blogger?" a new friend from the University of Georgia Journalism School asked somewhat snarkily. Nezua, aka The Unapologetic Mexican, was pretty obviously the blogger. But again, his hip-hop attire was beside the point once he started talking with passion about his efforts with the blogging collective The Sanctuary (Portland, Oregon).

The best names among awardees went to Cindy Yip and Otis Fang of Sing Tao Radio (San Francisco), who won Best Reporting on a Community Issue (Radio) for a show they did (in Cantonese) based on a blog entry by a teacher in China who abandoned his students and ran for his life during the Sichuan earthquake last year.

I am not usually one to stick my mug in the pic, but I had to get one with my man Do Quy Toan, whose column "Sharks are targeting servicemen, elders and disabled people" for the Viet Tribune (San Jose) won in the Ethnic Elders category.

Yeah, I guess I had to get a picture of me with Sandy Close. Some of us are legends ... and some of us pose with legends.

That would be none other than former Fire Chief Sherman George, who wanted to get him and me posing with Richelle Carey, who was very friendly and eager for all updates on things in St. Louis. (She also said mine was the first name she had to read - and the easiest to pronounce.) I told the black firefighters that my story about their promotions battle had won an award, and Chief George flew down to support me.

And one more of me with some of the other runners up. Physical looks are beside the point when it comes to the hard work of journalism, but we are visual and superficial beings as well as soulful workers, so I have to say that I have been to a lot of journalism awards dinners, and the Ethnic Media Awards have the beautiful women journalists of the world on lock.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Comptroller Green urges Gov. Nixon to review Clemons case

Today St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green formally requested that Governor Jay Nixon grant clemency to Reginald Clemons and order a review of Clemons' case. You may download a copy of her signed letter. The text is as follows:

Dear Governor Nixon,

Please consider this letter a formal request for you to immediately grant Mr. Reginald Clemons clemency. I believe that in the interest of justice, Mr. Clemons’ case should be thoroughly reviewed by your office.

Each and every Missourian deserves and expects all the protections the law allows. In this particular case, it appears Mr. Clemons is not being afforded his Constitutional right of due process. In fact, he currently is party to an appeal in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that may provide additional information as to the facts of his case.

I find it unconscionable that a citizen in the great state of Missouri would be executed while his appeal is still pending and without fully exhausting due process. When signing the order to execute a human being, in this case Reginald Clemons, the onus is on the Governor to ensure that justice is being served in accordance with the State Constitution and all applicable laws. I and many others fear that this is not the case in the matter of Reginald Clemons.

Again, I implore you to immediately grant Mr. Reginald Clemons clemency until you have thoroughly reviewed his case and all due process rights have been afforded to our fellow Missourian.

Darlene Green

Clemons is scheduled to be executed by the State of Missouri on June 17, though (as I have previously reported) he has an appeal pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 8th District and a request to that court for a stay of execution until his appeal is adjudicated.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Early Nirvana drummer was a radio gypsy child

Chad Channing's band Before Cars is releasing its debut record on June 12 in Seattle. After Jack Endino turned me onto this development - Chad was the drummer on the great Nirvana record Bleach, which Endino produced - I sold a little story to RollingStone.com.

I'll be riffing a bit on Chad, between now and June 12, based on our conversation for The Rolling Stone website piece. Here is more about Chad's early days.


Chad Channing:

I spent a lot of time growing up on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, but I was born in San Rosa, California, and we moved around a lot before we came to Washington – Minnesota, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho.

My dad (Doug Channing) was a DJ, he worked at radio stations – News, Top 40, Country. Now retired. He and mother, Bernice Channing, both alive. Before we moved to Washington, he was at a Country station in Idaho, KLIX. He got a job offer at a new station, KBRO, in Bremerton (Washington).

News often pays a little better standard than Pop or Rock. So he would always go where the money was. Now shock jocks command serious dough. Back in the day, that was not the case. To raise a family as a DJ was not an easy task. He would always go where the better opportunity was.

The majority of my songwriting is inspired by 1970s music. My dad being a DJ, I heard all the hits, no matter what – Country, Pop, R&B, Rock – I heard it a million times. My mom always had on the radio because my dad was on it,


I thought it was interesting, given that Nirvana was the band that brought post-punk to the mainstream radio, that the bands foundational drummer grew up as a radio gypsy! Anybody want to add it to brother's weak Wikipedia site?


Pic from a Flickr. Chad is to the left.