Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The organization considers the death penalty “the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.” Even with its clear opposition to capital punishment, some have questioned why Amnesty International has chosen Reginald Clemons as its number one death penalty case to work on. The primary reason is that Clemons’ case has several legal and judicial improprieties associated with the case, some of which bear resemblance to the Troy Davis case (who was executed in September 2011).
No Physical Evidence
There was no physical evidence introduced against Clemons linking him to the crime, no undisputed confession on his part, and no eyewitness testimony from anyone who was neither a co-defendant nor a former suspect.
Troy Davis’ case also had no physical evidence. The murder weapon was never found, and no evidence was presented that proved Davis has a connection with the victim in any way.
Convicted Based on Witness Testimony
Not only was Clemons convicted on the basis of witness testimony, but all the witnesses who testified were either former suspects or co-defendants.
Troy Davis was also convicted based on witness testimony, and all but two of those witnesses ended up contradicting or recanting their testimony, citing police coercion.
Witness Had Been a Former Suspect
Thomas Cummins, who testified at Clemons’ trial, was formally arrested after his interrogation on 5 April 1991 and was held in custody to face charges of first-degree murder. However, he was released two or three days later, after Marlin Gray, Reginald Clemons, Antonio Richardson and Daniel Winfrey were arrested. Under further interrogation after his arrest, Cummins implicated himself in the deaths of his cousins, apparently stating that he had tried to have sex with Julie Kerry, which had led to an argument during which he had pushed her off the bridge. He then apparently told the police that he thought Robin Kerry had either jumped off the bridge to try to save her sister or that he himself had pushed her off.
One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony in the Troy Davis case is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
Alleged Police Coercion
Clemons alleges that he confessed under the pressure of police brutality to raping one of the victims. Witnesses attest to Clemons’ face being swollen after his interrogation and his arraigning judge sent him to the emergency room. He subsequently retracted his confession. Two other suspects independently alleged mistreatment by the police. Thomas Cummins, a cousin of the victims who testified against Clemons at trial, had at one point also confessed under police pressure. Cummins filed a police brutality lawsuit, resulting in a settlement from the city. Clemons’ lawyers tried to get his confession thrown out on the basis of the police brutality, but the judge presiding ruled that there was an absence of credible evidence “to show how he got those injuries”.
Inadequate Legal Representation
Clemons’ lawyer was later suspended from practicing law following numerous complaints. His co-counsel had a full-time job in another state when she represented Clemons. Another lawyer hired by Clemons’ mother to assist in the case said that as the trial loomed, it was clear the two trial lawyers had not done the necessary preparation. Upon Clemons’ arrest, his mother was told that her son did not need a lawyer and Clemons was denied access to a lawyer while being interrogated.
Is Clemons Innocent?
Innocence isn’t clear in this case, but Amnesty International does not declare Clemons innocent or guilty, even if some of our partner organizations may do so. However, it is because the Clemons case has many of the same legal improprieties that were prominent in Troy Davis’ case that Amnesty International is putting this case front and center for its death penalty efforts. We don’t need another Troy Davis, and whether or not someone is guilty or innocent shouldn’t make a difference in whether or not the death penalty is just or unjust. We shouldn’t execute someone who did not receive a fair trial, whether or not the person did it. We also shouldn’t let an execution force us to find the truth, or wait for one to learn the truth.
If interested in helping the St. Louis chapter support Reggie Clemons, then we will be marching in the Martin Luther King Jr. March this Monday. Dr. King was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and we should continue his legacy by continuing to advocate for Clemons. We will be meeting at 10 a.m. at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Look for the Reggie Clemons campaign banner and please wear a green shirt or Justice for Reggie shirt, if you have one.