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UPDATE: Missouri inmate's lawyers relieved by stay of execution

Monday, June 8, 2009 | 4:43 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Attorneys for a man convicted in the 1991 slayings of two sisters who were forced off an abandoned St. Louis bridge into the Mississippi River said Monday that they were relieved his execution has been put on hold, but they noted that their work is not done yet.

Reginald Clemons, 37, was sentenced to death for the April 1991 murders of 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry. His execution had been scheduled for June 17, until the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to a delay in a one-sentence, unsigned order.

It's not certain how long Clemons' execution will be on hold.

The attorneys said they will continue to pursue all potential avenues to get his death sentence overturned.

They also said they hope Friday's ruling is an indication that the appeals court will agree with them on a broader issue: that they should be given a chance to evaluate whether Missouri is hiring untrained, unqualified people to carry out lethal injection.

Clemons was one of four men convicted of killing the Kerry sisters on April 4, 1991. Prosecutors said the women were raped, then pushed to their deaths off the old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis.

"There's some uncertainty, but for now the execution is stayed," said Josh Levine, lead attorney for Clemons. "We're waiting on a decision on the merits. Hopefully it will go our way."

The attorney general's office declined to comment on the appeals court ruling.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster said he was reviewing the facts of the case. Clemons' family said Koster pledged during his campaign to look into the case if elected.

Clemons' attorneys want the appeals court to return the case to a lower court and allow them to pursue their theory that Missouri has not done enough to ensure lethal injection is carried out by qualified personnel.

Clemons has maintained his innocence. Then-prosecutor Nels Moss has said he has no doubts about Clemons' guilt.

A woman who answered the phone Monday at the home of Dr. Richard Kerry, father of the Kerry sisters, said the family had no comment.

The Department of Corrections said it was keeping apprised of legal developments and that if the courts decide to proceed with the execution, it would be responsible for carrying it out.

Clemons and his co-defendants had randomly come across the sisters and their male cousin on the abandoned bridge on the night of April 4, 1991.

Co-defendant Daniel Winfrey testified against the others as part of a plea agreement. Winfrey, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, has been released and is on parole.

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. He was convicted of murder as an accomplice, and the rape confession was used as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his murder trial.

Another defendant, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2005. The death sentence for co-defendant Antonio Richardson was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993. He is serving life in prison.

 


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