Supporters rally in Columbia to support Clemons

Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 14, 2009

COLUMBIA – Before a stay was issued on his execution earlier this month, Reggie Clemons was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5 agreed to a delay the execution while Missouri's execution procedure is challenged in court.

To show their support for Clemons' cause, Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty (MADP) and Clemons' supporters hosted a "Rally for Reggie" on Saturday at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. 

The rally was held to garner support for Clemons and convince Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster to stop his execution. About 30 people attended the rally.

Clemons was convicted in February 1993 in connection with the death of two sisters, Julie and Robin Kerry.

The Kerry sisters, along with their cousin, Tom Cummins, were visiting the St. Louis Chain of Rocks Bridge on April 4, 1991, when they encountered Clemons and three friends: Tony Richardson, Marlin Gray and Daniel Winfrey.

Although Tom Cummins was the initial suspect, police then turned their attention to Clemons and friends after tracing a flashlight back to Richardson. Clemons didn't admit to murder, but in police questioning did admit to raping the sisters and was then convicted as an accomplice to murder due to that confession.

Since then, Clemons' family and attorneys have appealed to the state, taking actions to prove his innocence.

In attendance at the rally was Jamala Rogers, coordinator for the "Justice for Reggie" campaign; as well as Darryl Burton, a man exonerated in August 2008, who spent 24 years of his life in prison after being convicted of a murder he did not commit; and MADP executive director Colleen Cunningham.

Burton began speaking by telling his own story of life behind bars. "As sure as I'm sitting here talking to you, that is hell on earth," he said about life at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Yet Burton is optimistic about his life and the lives of others who have been wrongly accused.

After being wrongfully convicted, he decided to fight his case alone, writing between 600 to 700 letters. "I wrote to presidents, governors, congresspeople, Democrats, Republicans — even Oprah," he said, smiling.

In 2000, Centurion Ministries took on his case and helped him to prove his innocence.

Despite his imprisonment, Burton's story is also one of finding freedom through faith. "I was in two prisons," he said. "Actual prison, and a prison of HATE — H, A, T, E — capital letters."

Burton hated those who testified at his trial, the prosecutors and even the judge. According to Burton, he later accepted God and promised to devote his life to Jesus Christ if he was set free.

Today, Burton travels the world, speaking of his struggle in the justice system and how he was able to fight for the truth.

Rogers followed Burton's story by discussing Clemons' case and pointing out the flaws.

Rogers said there are many factors that make Clemons' case questionable: misconduct on the part of the prosecutor, petty testimony, poor legal representation, police misconduct and jury-selection bias.

"If you have more questions than answers in a capital-punishment case," Rogers said, "something's not right."

 Rogers also pointed out that since Marlin Gray, one of Clemons' co-defendants, was executed in October 2005, Clemons' execution could complicate matters for the state. "They'd rather cover it up and move on," Rogers said.

Ultimately, this rally was another stop for Clemons' campaign as Rogers and others seek to spread Clemons' story.

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