Missouri authorities must prevent execution of death row prisoner

Authorities in the US state of Missouri should commute the death sentence of Reginald Clemons, who has been on death row for 17 years, Amnesty International urges in a new report.The report highlights disturbing aspects in the prosecution of Reginald Clemons for the drowning deaths of two sisters in 1991. These concerns include misconduct by the prosecutor, alleged police brutality, prejudicial jury selection and ineffective legal counsel.The report also suggests that race was an issue at the trial because African Americans were disproportionately excluded from the jury. Reginald Clemons is black. The two victims were white. Two other black co-defendants were sentenced to death. One has been executed. The other, 16 years old at the time of the crime, had his sentence committed to life imprisonment.A white co-defendant pled guilty in exchange for a prison sentence and testimony against the three African American youths. He has since been released. Another key witness against Reginald Clemons was a cousin of the two murder victims. He was the initial suspect in the case. Charges against him were dropped, and he later received a substantial sum of money to settle a lawsuit he brought against the authorities claiming he was beaten during police interrogation.  Reginald Clemons alleged that he too was beaten by the same officers into implicating himself in the crime.The prosecution conceded that Clemons neither killed the sisters – Julie and Robin Kerry – nor planned the crime. He was tried and convicted as an accomplice. A federal judge ruled in 2002 that as a result of the improper exclusion of jurors at the trial Reginald Clemons should receive a new sentencing hearing or have his death sentence reduced to life imprisonment. However, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals overturned this decision on the technical grounds that the claim had been “procedurally defaulted”, that is, had not been properly preserved for federal judicial review. At the same time, all four judges agreed that the prosecutor’s conduct at trial had been “unprofessional”, “abusive and boorish”, but decided that this improper conduct had not prejudiced the outcome of the trial. Reginald Clemons’ execution is on hold while a state judge assigned by the Missouri Supreme Court examines questions that have been raised about the reliability of the conviction and the proportionality of the sentence.  While Amnesty International has welcomed this as a positive step, the organization is urging the state authorities to grant clemency now.