Could Troy Davis Save Reginald Clemons?

Yes, Troy Davis has been killed, after a roller coaster ride through the end stages of an execution. But he left a message behind, which said this, in part: This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our

Yes, Troy Davis has been killed, after a roller coaster ride through the end stages of an execution. But he left a message behind, which said this, in part:

This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.

I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form, I will one day be announcing,

“I AM TROY DAVIS, and I AM FREE!”

I want to take him at his word, and as it turns out, right after I wrote my final post about Troy's execution, someone suggested I look at Reginald Clemons' case, pending in Missouri.

The more I look at it, the more I'm gobsmacked by the idea of this man ending up on Death Row when he was never convicted of the crime committed -- the rape and murder of two white teenagers. Under the prosecutor's theory of the case, Clemons was an accomplice. It is a case with a lot of twists and turns in it, but there are facts which have been clearly established. The fact sheet with the entire story is here. I suggest you read it before going further.

Here's some of what you will learn:

  • At the time of the crime, Reggie Clemons had a clean record, was in school studying to become a mechanic. There does not appear to be any common link between the victims, Clemons, or his friends.
  • The original suspect was a cousin of the victims, Thomas Cummins, who eventually implicated himself in the crime after his initial story came up short. Charges against Cummins were dropped and charges brought against the three African-American teenagers who were in the area that night. Clemons was one.
  • Police beat Clemons, denied him an attorney after he asked for one, and coerced a statement from him, admitting to rape of the girls but not pushing them off the bridge.
  • Thomas Cummins retracted his confession, claiming it had been beaten out of him. He settled his police brutality complaint and prosecutors dropped all charges. They ignored Clemons and his co-defendants' claims of police brutality, dropped the rape charges, and charged them all with capital murder. Clemons charges stemmed from their theory of the case; namely, that he was an accessory to murder by virtue of being in the same location.
  • Reggie Clemons had extraordinarily ineffective attorneys. One of them was practicing tax law in California while returning to Missouri for court appearances.
  • The prosecutor improperly excluded African-American jurors from the panel. It was so egregious he was later sanctioned for it.
  • One of his co-defendants, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2009.

There's more. But this gives you a flavor of what this case is about. As if all of that isn't bad enough, there's this nugget, discovered after 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed his execution: There is a rape kit from one of the victims in the police evidence room that has never been tested and was never brought forth at trial. A rape kit! Something that would have proven or disproven Reggie Clemons' coerced confession.

KDSK.com, in March, 2010:

The latest twist happened last week, when the man who prosecuted the suspects told the Missouri Attorney General's office that evidence in the case was at police headquarters.

Nels Moss was the assistant circuit attorney in the case, who is now in private practice. He's not returning phone calls.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says the newly discovered evidence is a so-called rape kit, which is a swab of material that could hold DNA. Also included are several laboratory reports.

For some reason, the evidence was never revealed during requests for evidence during four separate trials.

Redditt Hudson is the program manager at the St. Louis office of the American Civil Liberties Union. He says it was beyond belief that this has happened. He also accused Moss of further misconduct. Moss has been under fire for years for being "too aggressive" as a prosecutor. Others say it borders on misconduct.

For some reason? Can we imagine what that reason might be? Can we possibly imagine what would possess a prosecutor to bury a rape kit and lab reports in an evidence room at the police station when rape was one of the original charges?

Reginald Clemons was supposed to have his case reviewed by a Special Master -- a judge appointed by the appellate court to review the evidence in his case. The original review date was May, 2010, but after discovery of the lab evidence and rape kit it was pushed to September 19th, and now to November 7, 2011. The Special Master can recommend anything from moving ahead with the execution to a recommendation that he be released.

It's bad enough that one defendant has already been executed in this case when there are clearly problems with the jury selection and now, the physical evidence. But it's incredible to imagine that this rape kit, which should have been produced as part of the defense request for all physical evidence recovered from the victim's body, wouldn't change the entire landscape of things. If DNA tests exclude Reggie Clemons, there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime. The only evidence left is a coerced confession, which likely should not have been admitted in the first place.

To those of you reading this and thinking to yourselves that the man was convicted by a jury of his peers, I would remind you that the jury was not his peers because of unlawful exclusions, and there is clearly a racial element in play here.

If we learn anything from the Troy Davis case, it should be this: The time to make noise is while there's still time left, not at the eleventh hour. There should be pressure on anyone connected with this case to give it a fair, public hearing and arrive at a fair, just conclusion.

I'm putting solid money on Reginald Clemons' innocence. The railroad tracks are large and dark on this one, and if there's any good to come from Troy Davis' execution, let it be Reginald Clemons' freedom.

And from that, let an avalanche of light fall on these cases where it may. Let that light expose the guilty from the innocent, the discrimination from the justice, and perhaps we'll finally come to a place where this country can understand that we are not humanly capable of choosing to rob another human of their life without error.

For more information about action items, this case, and others like it, please visit Amnesty International. There is a vast archive of information about Reginald Clemons' case at Justice For Reggie.

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