JEFFERSON CITY — The parents of a man convicted of murdering two sisters in 1991 are pleading with Gov. Jay Nixon to spare his life, saying their son didn't kill the women.
Vera and Reynolds Thomas delivered a letter Thursday to Nixon's Capitol office begging the governor to cancel the scheduled June 17 execution of their son. Nixon was not present, but they did meet with Nixon's staff.
Reginald Clemons was sentenced to death for the April 1991 murders of 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry.
Prosecutors say Clemons and three acquaintances randomly came across the sisters and their male cousin on the abandoned Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, then forced them into the Mississippi River. The cousin survived.
Clemons' mother and stepfather say their son went to the bridge that night and saw the Kerrys but that Clemons and his friends did not kill the women.
"Reginald is actually innocent," Reynolds Thomas, his stepfather, told reporters at the Capitol. "There's nothing that shows that Reginald had anything to do with any pushing, shoving, cajoling or anything in the murder."
The case against Clemons rested largely on the trial testimony of one of Clemons' acquaintances, Daniel Winfrey, and of the sisters' cousin, Tom Cummins. Cummins had initially confessed to the crime under police questioning but later recanted and received a legal settlement after suing police.
Supporters of Clemons, who was 19 at the time of the crime, say he was beaten by police into falsely confessing to raping one of the sisters, which was used as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his murder trial. They say his trial was tainted by racial overtones — Clemons is black, the Kerrys were white and most of the jurors were white — and by a combination of an overzealous prosecutor and poor defense attorney.
Nixon, who was traveling the state Thursday promoting his signing of an economic development bill, told reporters in St. Louis that he would carefully consider a clemency request for Clemons.
Nixon served as attorney general when the state appealed a 2002 U.S. District Court ruling throwing out Clemons' death sentence because of the exclusion of six potential jurors who expressed reservations about the death penalty. Upon appeal, the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the death sentence.
Vera Thomas said she hopes Nixon looks at the case from a different perspective now that he is governor.
"I'm sure the decisions you are faced with are not always easy and I know that you are trying your best to do right by the people you represent," Thomas wrote in her letter to Nixon. "But in this case, I believe that a terrible mistake is being made. I fear that if Reggie is executed, I not only will have personally lost my son, but the people of Missouri will have lost as well."
Marlin Gray, who also was convicted in the Kerrys' deaths, was executed in 2005.
Antonio Richardson had his death sentence for the Kerrys' murder overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993 because he had been sentenced by a judge after jurors deadlocked without agreeing on the factors needed for the death penalty.
The fourth person, Daniel Winfrey, testified for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has been released from prison and is on parole.