This week, a “special master” in St. Louis begins review of the case of Reggie Clemons to determine if his trial was fair and his death sentence is just. Reggie Clemons is on Missouri’s death row for murders he did not commit. When Troy Davis was executed one year ago this month, we thought we’d put the absolute horror and national shame that our government would put an innocent man to death behind us. But the case of Reggie Clemons looms large – Missouri, the state that “compromised” Black people by authorizing slavery within certain parameters in order to be admitted to the United States, has continued that legacy of disrespect of Black life by engaging in a flawed, decades-long effort to execute an innocent Black man.
Let’s back up a little and lay out this terrible tale:
Late one night in 1991, two young white women plunged to their deaths from the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Mo. The original suspect, Thomas Cummins, the out-of-town cousin of the women originally admitted to making a sexual advance on one of them, startling her and causing her to fall into the river, her sister jumping in afterwards in a failed attempt to save her. Cummins confessed to the crime after failing a lie detector test and changing his story several times. Only after the police charged and then inexplicably released this first suspect, did they turn to Reggie Clemons, who had no criminal history, and three others and charge them with murder.
Reggie Clemons maintains his innocence and there is no physical evidence of his involvement in the deaths -- no fingerprints, no DNA, no hair or fiber samples – despite a rape accusation. Reggie Clemons’ case was marred by race bias, police brutality, an unconstitutionally-constituted jury, prosecutorial misconduct, and a wholly inadequate defense.