New Evidence In Missouri Death Penalty Case

Chain of Rocks Bridge

The brutal slaying of two young women in 1991 continues to rock the Gateway City as new evidence emerges amid claims of prosecutorial misconduct.

Julie Kerry

A crucial development occurred in the case of convicted murderer Reginald “Reggie” Clemons when the Missouri Attorney General’s office announced the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has found undisclosed evidence in the case. The evidence, which was not presented at trial, consists of lab reports and a “rape kit.” Clemons was convicted of the 1991 slaying of Julie and Robin Kerry on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Robin Kerry

Clemons and three other men were convicted of the assault and murder of 19-year-old Robin and 20-year-old Julie. The sisters and their cousin, 19-year-old Thomas Cummins, were viewing a poem the young women wrote on the bridge when they were attacked. They were assaulted then forced off the bridge into the Mississippi River; the Kerry sisters were killed, Cummins survived.

In addition to the new evidence, Amnesty International has pledged its involvement to help Clemons win a new trial or at least have his death sentence commuted. The human rights group alleges police brutality, racial profiling, and jury misconduct, calling the Clemons’ trial unjust. The St. Louis chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also claims prosecutorial misconduct. Circuit attorney general Nels Moss, who prosecuted Clemons, has been under fire for his alleged mishandling of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an 8th Circuit appellate court decision not to block of execution of Clemons. Of three men convicted with Clemons, Marlin Gray was executed in 2005, Antonio Richardson is serving life without parole (his original death sentence was reversed in 2003), and Daniel Winfrey was paroled in 2007.

For a definitive account of the case, read A Rip In Heaven by Jeanine Cummins.

Defending DNA?

The infallibility of DNA is in question after Israeli researchers discover the genetic code can be forged.
The infallibility of DNA is in question after Israeli researchers discover the genetic code can be forged.

Scientists: DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated

Observing the use of DNA evidence in the judicial system during the past 20 years has been exciting for this forensics nerd. The potential for further analysis to narrow an individual’s genome code and separate it from other suspects has grown exponentially. The judicial system has experienced what you might call growing pains–several states have called moratoriums on death penalty cases, while other states have had case reviews if DNA is present but was not eligible for testing when the case was first tried in court. What has since come to pass is a number of people have been exonerated–cleared of the crime they were convicted of–due to the introduction of DNA evidence. In other cases, some individuals remain incarcerated because the DNA proved that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Or so we thought.

So now what is our less-than-stellar justice system supposed to do since a group of Israeli researchers have reported that DNA can be fabricated? Where does that leave us? I realize that the average criminal isn’t going to bother going to all of the trouble to plant someone else’s DNA at a crime scene, but anything is possible in these troubled times. Our country was making strides in improving the weaknesses in our justice system, yet now we have to defend the one piece of evidence that we wholeheartedly (or rather foolheartedly) believed in, thanks to TV shows like CSI, Forensic Files, Dateline, and 48 Hours Mystery. This new finding brings up so many unanswered questions. Have we been wrong about DNA all along?