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Opening Statements Begin in Clemons Death Row Case

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Reggie Clemons being brought into the courtroom Monday September 17, 2012. (Photo via Amnesty International)

Reggie Clemons being brought into the courtroom Monday September 17, 2012. (Photo via Amnesty International)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One of four men convicted in the 1991 killing of two St. Louis-area sisters should be freed from death row and granted a new trial, his lawyer said Monday on the first day of a hearing to determine the inmate’s fate.

Reginald Clemons confessed to the slayings of 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry, but later recanted. His lawyers said police beat the confession out of him.

One of the four men convicted in the attack, Daniel Winfrey, testified that Clemons suggested the group rob the sisters and their cousin, Tom Cummins, and that the sisters were raped while Cummins was restrained. Prosecutors said the three then were forced through a manhole in the St. Louis bridge deck to a platform below the bridge. They said the sisters were pushed off and died, but that Cummins survived the 70-foot jump into the Mississippi River.

Winfrey testified against the other three in a plea agreement and has since been paroled. Among the men convicted in the sisters’ killings, only Clemons still faces the death penalty. Marlin Gray was executed in 2005, and Antonio Richardson’s penalty was changed to life without parole.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners will make a recommendation to the Missouri Supreme Court on Clemons’ case. The hearing is expected to last all week.

Clemons’ lawyer said his client was treated unfairly and forced to confess.

“Judge, there was injustice during every point on Reggie’s road to death row,” Josh Levine said in opening arguments Monday. Levine noted that Clemons was 12 days from execution in 2009 when it was postponed by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals over concerns about Missouri’s execution method.

“Without the 8th Circuit, Reggie would be dead,” Levine said.

Attorneys for the Missouri attorney general’s office argued there was ample evidence against Clemons.

Sue Boresi, an assistant attorney general, said that while Clemons didn’t push the girls, he was among the four men who raped them and led them through a manhole to the bridge deck below. She said Clemons blocked the manhole, keeping them from escaping before they were pushed to their deaths.

New evidence could be presented at the hearing. In 2010, the Missouri Attorney General’s office found lab reports and physical evidence, including a rape kit, taken during an exam of one of the victim’s remains. Those findings have never been released publicly, but could come up during the hearing.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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