Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington-bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy, told The Root that a major problem with putting innocent people, particularly African Americans, on death row persists. “As long as there is a death penalty in our society, it will not be racially neutral. As we speak, [Reginald Clemons] is fighting for his life in Missouri. We have to fight for the elimination of the death penalty.”
On Monday, Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners in Missouri began reviewing Clemons’ case for what could be the last time, Laura Moye — director of death-penalty abolition in the USA for Amnesty International — told The Root. The group is sponsoring an online petition asking Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to halt the execution of Clemons.
The Question of Race
“Is Reggie Clemons the next Troy Davis?” Moye said. “We have to ask that question. His crime happened the year that Troy Davis went to death row. There is no physical evidence, there are allegations of police coercion, he was convicted based on witness testimony and a key witness was a former suspect. They are both black men, but Troy’s jury was more racially balanced than Reggie’s. The similarities are just uncanny.”
Clemons was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice in the 1991 murder of two young white women, Julie and Robin Kerry. Two other black youths were also convicted, including Marlin Gray (executed in 2005). Clemons has consistently maintained his innocence, and his case illustrates many of the flaws in the U.S. death-penalty system, Moye said.
Additionally, at the time of the trial, the prosecution conceded that Clemons neither killed the victims nor planned the crime because there was no physical evidence that tied him to the crime itself or the events leading up to it. The two main witnesses were a former suspect and a co-defendant.
Amnesty International points out that not only were the murder victims white, but so were the two crucial witnesses. The three convicted defendants were black, and during the jury selection, blacks were disproportionately dismissed, resulting in an unrepresentative jury given the sizable black population of St. Louis, Moye said.