ST. LOUIS — The effort to free Reginald Clemons from Missouri's death row goes to a St. Louis courtroom starting Monday.
Clemons was one of four men convicted in the 1991 killings of two St. Louis-area sisters, 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry. Both girls, along with their visiting male cousin, were thrown from an abandoned Mississippi River bridge. The cousin, Thomas Cummins, survived.
Clemons confessed to the killings, but later recanted. His lawyers say the confession was beaten out of him by police interrogators.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners will oversee the hearing. He will then issue a report to the Missouri Supreme Court, which will decide whether Clemons should get a new trial. The Supreme Court could also decide to commute Clemons' death sentence, said Matt Murphy, spokesman for the St. Louis Circuit Court.
Murphy said it will likely be several months before the Supreme Court makes a decision.
Clemons is expected to be in the courtroom for the hearing, which will proceed much like a trial. Murphy is expected to testify Monday or Tuesday. The trial is expected to last five days.
Clemons' case has drawn international attention. Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, is expected to attend the hearing.
Amnesty International has cited what it sees as several concerns about the case, concerns that include potential police misconduct, a lack of physical evidence and inconsistent witness testimony.
Moye has also argued that racial bias may have played a role in Clemon's conviction; the victims were white and the defendants were black.
New evidence could be presented at the hearing. In 2010, the Missouri Attorney General's office found lab reports and physical evidence, including a rape kit, taken during an exam of one of the victim's remains. Those findings have never been released publicly but could come up during the hearing.
The Kerry sisters took Cummins, then 19, to the unused Chain of Rocks Bridge on the night of April 5, 1991, to show him a poem they had placed on the span. They happened upon a group of young men. The girls were raped and all three were pushed off the bridge.
Clemons and Marlin Gray were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Gray was executed in 2005. Clemons was just weeks from execution in 2009 when a federal appeals court delayed it.
Another of the suspects, Antonio Richardson, had his death sentence overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993 because of procedural errors.
The fourth suspect, 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.