ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned the first-degree murder convictions and the death sentence for one of four men convicted of raping two sisters and throwing them to their death from an abandoned Mississippi River bridge in St. Louis 24 years ago.
The court’s 4-3 ruling on Tuesday sends Reginald Clemons’ case back to circuit court, and gives the state 60 days to either seek a retrial or allow charges to be dismissed.
The Supreme Court declined to overturn a ruling by a “special master” it appointed who determined that prosecutors suppressed evidence about detectives beating Clemons into confession. Clemon, who is on Death Row, is also serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2007 to an act of prison violence.
Jennifer Joyce, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis, said in a statement, “We have been informed of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the case against Reginald Clemons. At this time, there is work to do prior to determining our next steps. Prosecutors within the Circuit Attorney’s Office will review the Court’s decision in its entirety.”
“As this crime occurred almost 25 years ago, we will need to review the State’s evidence, determine the availability of witnesses and reporting officers in the case, and discuss our options with the victims’ family,” the statement says. “Once we have completed this process, we will then determine the appropriate course of action within the allotted period of time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of Julie and Robin Kerry.”
Congressman Lacy Clay says the Supreme Court corrected a grave injustice, and says the ruling powerfully affirms his essential arguments in the case … that police cannot be allowed to beat a confession out of a suspect, and prosecutors cannot be allowed to suppress evidence.
The Supreme Court’s decision specifies that though the murder conviction is overturned, Clemens will remain in state custody pursuant to the 15-year sentence for violence while incarcerated.
Judge Paul C. Wilson dissents in the case, saying he would deny Clemons’ petition on its merits. Clemons “has not shown he is more likely than not’ actually innocent, and he also fails to establish ’cause’ and ‘prejudice’ entitling him to relief now,” the dissent reads.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge is a highway bridge over the Mississippi River that formerly permitted traffic to travel between Illinois and Missouri before authorities closed the bridge to vehicular traffic. On April 4, 1991, just before midnight, Julie and Robin Kerry took their cousin, Thomas Cummins, to the bridge to show him a graffiti poem they had painted there several years earlier.
That same night, Reginald Clemons, along with Marlin Gray, Daniel Winfrey, and Clemons cousin, Antoino Richardson, met at a mutual friend’s home, where they drank beer and smoked marijuana. Gray suggested that they go to the Chain of Rocks Bridge. About 11 p.m., the four men took two separate cars to the bridge.
The Kerrys and Cummins made their way onto the bridge deck, where encountered Clemons and his companions. The two groups briefly chatted; one of the Kerry sisters gave Winfrey a cigarette. Gray showed the Kerrys and Cummins how to climb over the bridge railing and come back up through a manhole in the bridge deck. He told Cummins that the manhole was “a good place to be alone, and take your woman.” The two groups parted, heading in opposite directions. Cummins and the Kerry sisters stopped to look at the graffiti poem and then continued walking toward Illinois.
According to court reports, in the meantime, Clemons and his friends had returned to the Missouri end of the bridge. As they lingered there, Clemons suggested to his companions, “Let’s rob them.” Gray replied “Yeah, I feel like hurting somebody.” Richardson suggested they rape the girls. They caught up with the Kerry sisters and Cummins and ordered Cummins to lye on the ground. They raped the sisters and eventually ordered them into the manhole.
Cummins told police Julie was pushed off first, then Robin. Cummins said he was ordered to jump, and did. When he surfaced after his 70-foot fall, he saw Julie nearby in the water and called for her to swim. Fighting the current and rough water, Julie grabbed Cummins, dragging them both below the surface. Cummins broke free. Julie did not reappear. Cummins eventually reached a steep riverbank and came ashore by a wooded area near the Chain of Rocks waterworks. Authorities recovered Julie’s body from the river near Caruthersville, Mo., about three weeks later. Robin’s body has never been recovered.
Marlin Gray was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. He was executed by the state of Missouri on Oct. 26, 2005.
Antonio Richardson was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, but in 2003, the Supreme Court commuted his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Daniel Winfrey confessed to the murders in the presence of his parents and police, and pleaded guilty to lesser charges of second-degree murder and forcible rape. He served 15 years on a 30-year prison sentence and was paroled in 2007. Winfrey violated the terms of his parole and returned to the Missouri State Department of Corrections in 2010.
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