[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MO., CONN., N.J.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Feb 19 13:05:30 CST 2012
Activists set to meet at MU to protest death penalty for Reggie Clemons
The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge has stood crooked just downstream of the
confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers since it was built in 1929.
Hooked 22 degrees at its middle — a concession to the river that would not let
it run true — it once took motorists between St. Louis and Madison, Ill., along
a stretch of historic Route 66.
In 1968 it was decommissioned in favor of a larger bridge built square to the
river to ferry Interstate 270 across. Then came 23 years of neglect and disuse
until it became a murder scene on the night of April 4, 1991, when Julie and
Robin Kerry dropped from the bridge more than 60 feet into the Mississippi
River where they drowned.
The body of Julie, 20 years old at the time, washed up three weeks later, 150
miles downstream. The body of her younger sister, 19, was never found.
Monday night, activists will meet at MU in support of one of four men convicted
of forcing the Kerry sisters from the bridge to their deaths. And for the 1st
time in state history, they will be voicing support for a bill sponsored by a
Republican representative that calls for the abolition of the death penalty in
A curious case
Reggie Clemons was indicted on charges of rape and robbery and convicted in
1993 on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder for pushing the Kerry sisters off the
But the facts to support that conviction have been a point of contention for
almost 20 years.
The primary witness against Clemons was Thomas Cummins, a cousin of the Kerry
sisters. The night the sisters were lost to the Mississippi, Cummins claimed he
and the sisters met Clemons and 3 other men on the bridge. According to press
reports at the time, the 4 men led them through a manhole in the road to a
platform below the bridge, and there the gang of four restrained Cummins and
raped the sisters before pitching all 3 of them to the river below.
But that was not Cummins’ first account of the events, Clemons’ supporters are
quick to point out.
During his initial interrogation by police, Cummins confessed that he had made
sexual advances toward Julie on the pier below the bridge and that during the
ensuing struggle between them, Robin fell. Julie dove in after her.
But Cummins claimed his confession was coerced. He later sued the St. Louis
Police Department and settled a lawsuit with the department for $150,000,
according to the St. Louis American.
Clemons claimed he, too, had been beaten by police into confessing that he
raped one of the sisters, though he has always maintained he did not push
anyone off the bridge. And indeed, the judge sent Clemons to a hospital when he
arrived at his arraignment with serious visible injuries.
But when 1 of the 4 men accused — the only white male of the four, Clemons’
supporters point out — traded corroborating testimony for a lesser plea,
Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death, despite no physical evidence
linking him to the crime.
Curiously, all 4 men were separately convicted as accomplices to the crimes,
said Jeff Stack of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who is
co-presenting the Clemons event at MU with the Law School’s American Civil
Liberties Union chapter.
Stack and Clemons’ other supporters who oppose the death penalty say the
judicial process failed the accused utterly — beginning with police coercion,
then prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense counsel and biased jury
In arguing the irreversibility of an execution, they also cite the work of
organizations such as the Innocence Project which uses DNA analysis to review
evidence in death sentence convictions. According to the project’s website, in
the U.S. there have been 289 post-conviction DNA exonerations since the
technology became available. Of the convicts representing those figures, 17 had
been under a death sentence before DNA evidence led to their release.
In Missouri, 7 people have been exonerated, post-conviction, through the
project. 3 men have had their death sentences overturned and charges dismissed.
In the decades after his conviction, Clemons’ case for clemency has attracted
support from groups and individuals such as the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, the ACLU, actor Danny Glover, the Catholic
Bishops of Missouri, Amnesty International and several other death penalty
opponents within the state and around the country.
On Feb. 15, some of Clemons’ supporters partnered with an unlikely ally to
present House Bill 1520 to the Committee on Corrections in Jefferson City.
Republican Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, sponsored the bill and brought 6
witnesses, to testify at a hearing on the bill Wednesday night. McGhee and Rep.
Michael Brown, D-Kansas City, also testified for the bill.
McGhee is the 1st Republican to champion such a bill in Missouri. Previous
efforts by Democrats had failed, most recently after Illinois repealed its
death penalty law in 2011.
At the committee hearing, McGhee discussed the bill as a matter of fiscal
rectitude during lean years for the state budget. He testified Missouri could
save as much as $300 million in costs by commuting the sentences of 46 inmates
currently on death row in Missouri to life without the possibility of parole.
He attributes the savings primarily to the high cost of appeals in death
sentence trials which are borne by the state. On the contrary, he noted that
costs associated with non-death penalty appeals fall on the convicts and their
Charlie Rogers, vice president of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense
Lawyers, also pointed to savings in the Missouri State Public Defender System,
which has 38 staff members devoted to death penalty appeals. He called the
death penalty “a luxury we cannot afford.”
Cathleen Burnett, a professor in the Criminal Justice and Criminology
Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, estimated that only one
in 30 death sentences results in execution in Missouri. Including the costs of
the other 29 sentences overturned on appeal or commuted to life in prison, a
single execution can cost taxpayers as much as $30 million, she said.
But strict economy is not the only issue at play. McGhee said he discussed the
merits of the bill with his pastor who pointed to Scriptures on both sides of
the issue. McGhee said he was left with this question: “When do we stop the
killing?” After much soul-searching, he decided abolishing the death penalty
would be consistent with his own pro-life convictions.
Still, McGhee admits, the bill might not be well-received by some of his
colleagues or constituents and probably doesn’t stand much chance of passage
But long odds against the bill would not deter the testimony of Ginger Masters,
whose husband, David, was murdered in 2005.
“7 years ago started a nightmare for my family,” Masters testified. David
Masters, her husband of 28 1/2 years, was killed by people who injected him
with a lethal dose of cocaine. But Ginger Masters asked the attorney
prosecuting the men responsible for her husband’s death not to seek the death
“I don’t think the state should be in the business of killing its citizens,"
she told the legislative committee at last week's hearing. "I say this in the
face of the 2 people convicted of the murder of my husband.”
Like McGhee, Masters admits her stance has not always been understood by
others. She has been challenged by people who question her loyalty to her
husband’s memory. But she said her love for her husband has never wavered, and
she does not forgive those who took him from her.
Stack, who has known Masters since just after the death of her husband,
maintains “the death penalty is a pretty sorry memorial to a loved one.”
In his experience working with victims’ families in death penalty cases, he
said: “It’s a myth to talk in terms of closure (for the family).”
Remember the victims
Clemons' mother, Vera Thomas, will speak at Monday night’s meeting at MU. She
could not be reached for comment.
Of the 3 other men originally convicted of the Kerry sisters’ murders:
-Antonio Richardson’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.
-Daniel Winfrey has been given parole.
-Marlin Gray was executed by the state on Oct. 26, 2005. “This is not a death.
It is a lynching," he said in his final statement, maintaining his innocence.
Clemons narrowly escaped one execution date in 2009 after a stay was granted by
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis. Now his case is
scheduled to be reviewed by a court-appointed special master on March 5 to
review any claims that Clemons was wrongfully convicted.
Stack remains hopeful that McGhee’s efforts may inspire others to push Missouri
to legislatively abolish the death penalty. But he said he strives not to lose
focus on the victims of the crime.
“It’s easy to lose track of the original victims, when convicts become victims
of the state,” he said.
In her book describing her brother Thomas Cummins' ordeal after the Kerry
sisters' deaths, Jeanine Cummins wrote that she believed her cousins, Julie and
Robin, were against the death penalty.
"What no one can know is whether that terrible night (at Old Chain of Rocks)
would have altered those views or not," she wrote. "There's no point in
(source: Columbia Missourian)
A son murdered, a hard lesson on the use of the death penalty
In 2006, my son Gregory Giesing, was murdered in his home, and a hole was torn
in my universe. It is absolutely impossible to describe what it feels like to
lose a child, much less to lose a child to violence. I wouldn't wish it on my
worst enemy. Now that I have been thrown into a world where murder and trials
are no longer distant or abstract notions, I have paid close attention to the
efforts in Connecticut to repeal the death penalty. My personal experience has
provided me with many reasons why I think Connecticut will be better off
without the death penalty.
For starters, I wouldn't wish the death penalty process on any grieving family.
I'm incredibly grateful my family wasn't put through the ordeal that comes with
the death penalty. Capital cases nearly always take longer to go to trial and
then last longer. When the trial is over, with its separate guilt and
sentencing phases, and a death verdict is handed down, the journey for the
families of victims just begins.
In Connecticut, only one person has been executed in the last 50 years. When
someone is sentenced to death, a myriad of constitutionally mandated safeguards
go into effect and the actual execution is a distant blip on the horizon. So
the family members wait vigilantly for the day when the offender's punishment
will finally be carried out.
In our case, prison was the punishment and we were able to see that punishment
carried out immediately. We know that the young man is suffering dearly for
taking the life of my son and won't be a threat to anyone else. I can't imagine
how my life would be stuck on pause if I were still waiting for the "real"
punishment of an execution to take place.
I also don't trust the finality of the death penalty. In my son's case, I have
lingering questions about what actually happened the night he was killed and if
everyone responsible has been held accountable. I believe that the police and
prosecutors in our case did the best that they could, but questions remain, as
they so often do in homicide cases.
We simply cannot presume absolute certainty, which is what we must demand if
lives are at stake. Obviously, no one should ever sentence someone to death
without complete certainty, but that simply is not the case in this country.
There have been 140 death row exonerations across the country, plus numerous
wrongful convictions in Connecticut for serious crimes, such as rape and
murder. Mistakes happen far too often to ever trust our government with the
The reality is, there are things that could help victims' families move forward
in the aftermath of violent crime. My grandchildren have seen their grandma sad
far too often. It would be wonderful if money that has to now be spent on
endless death penalty appeals was instead available to provide counseling for
those traumatized by the murder of a loved one, mitigating the emotional
devastation it can wreak on an entire family.
According to the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis, the state would save
approximately $4 million annually in reduced defense and prosecution costs due
to a repeal of the death penalty. It would make a lot more sense to use that
money to help the thousands of siblings, parents, nieces and nephews left
behind in the wake of murder.
I stand with my living sons, and in the memory of their lost brother. We are
asking for an end to the death penalty in Connecticut. It simply doesn't do us
(source: Rae Giesing lives in Groton. His son and his son's stepbrother were
murdered in May 2006; The Day)
Death Penalty Repeal on the Mind of Some Legislators
Some state lawmakers are reviving a push to end Connecticut’s death penalty,
hoping for an easier road this year following the conclusion of 2 widely
publicized trials for a brutal 2007 triple slaying.
While the only survivor of the Cheshire home invasion personally lobbied
legislators last year to keep the death penalty, at least one state senator who
was swayed by Dr. William Petit says he is now ready to vote for repeal.
“Last year was not an appropriate time to discuss (repeal),” said Sen. Andrew
Maynard, a Stonington Democrat.
Petit’s influence helped to doom last year’s bid to repeal the death penalty,
which never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Since then, a man described
as the crime’s mastermind has been condemned to join his co-defendant on death
row, closing the case on the attack in which Petit’s wife and 2 daughters were
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a New Haven Democrat and a leading death
penalty opponent, said he is working with state legislators to win their
support. He said members of the joint judiciary committee plan to propose
legislation sometime before a Feb. 22 deadline to introduce new bills. He said
he is dedicated to working with state senators to win their support.
Death penalty opponents say there is already enough support for repeal in the
House of Representatives
Columbia Sen. Edith Prague, another key Democrat who shifted her position after
meeting with Petit, said she has not decided whether to support a repeal effort
this session. She said she may support abolishing capital punishment if current
death row inmates could be subject to life in prison with solitary confinement,
but needs to look further into whether or not that would be legal.
“There’s still a lot of support for the death penalty in this state,” she said.
“I’m not sure what will happen this session.”
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was elected in 2010, said he would sign
prospective repeal legislation into law that abolishes capital punishment for
all future cases and does not directly affect sentences of current death row
inmates. He is the 1st governor in decades to oppose the death penalty. The
legislature had voted to repeal it in 2009, but then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a
Republican, vetoed the bill, saying she believed the death penalty was
appropriate for particularly heinous crimes, such as the Cheshire home
Petit’s wife was raped and strangled. His daughters were tied to their beds
with gasoline poured on or around them before their house was set on fire.
Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but managed to escape to a
neighbor’s house to get help.
In December, Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted and sentenced to death for the
crime, joining his accomplice, Steven Hayes, on death row. Currently, the state
has 11 inmates awaiting execution.
Rick Healey, a friend of Petit who has served as his spokesman, said he does
not expect Petit to comment on the latest efforts to repeal the death penalty.
A Quinnipiac University poll in March 2011 found 67 % of registered voters
favor the death penalty, a new high for the state.
Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer
Michael Ross was administered lethal injection in 2005. Some inmates have been
on death row for decades as they appeal their sentences.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he opposes repeal, and listening to
Petit’s testimony in favor of the death penalty was enough to solidify his
position. He said prospects for repeal legislation are unclear.
“It’s apparent this governor would sign the bill if it went to his desk, so I’m
not sure what is going to happen,” he said.
While the governor supports only legislation affecting future cases, skeptics
including Prague have raised concerns that the Cheshire home invasion killers
could use a repeal as the basis for an appeal and possibly avoid facing capital
Some death penalty opponents continue to campaign for an all-out abolition.
Activists from the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty began
lobbying efforts on opening day of the legislative session. Ben Jones, the
organization’s executive director, said high energy among the African-American
community and families of murder victims could help repeal the death penalty in
Scot Esdaile, president of the state’s branch of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization has been meeting with
lawmakers on the issue. Esdaile said the Connecticut NAACP plans to employ
grass-roots efforts to spread awareness of how capital punishment affects the
African-American community. “We have a large investment (in this issue,)” he
(soure: Housatonic Times)
Controlling crime: Christie proposes changes on how judges set bail
Across the street from the courthouses on South Broad Street and North Clinton
Avenue are businesses whose services no one wants to have to use, but that are
an integral part of the state’s criminal justice system.
Bail bond agents are in the business of helping people who face criminal
charges stay out of jail during the months or even years that can pass before
their cases are decided — a period during which the justice system presumes
they are innocent until proven guilty.
New Jersey’s constitution guarantees everyone the right to bail, except
defendants in death penalty cases. But in an effort to prevent arrestees from
committing more crimes while they await trial, Gov. Chris Christie, a former
federal prosecutor, has proposed amending the constitution to allow state
judges to impose preventive detention without bail for repeat violent
offenders, a power judges in federal cases already have.
The change “aims to provide our courts with the ability to keep dangerous
offenders in jail and off community streets rather than give them an
opportunity to commit further acts of violence, intimidate witnesses until the
time of their trial,” Christie said last week during a news conference attended
by state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini
and five other county prosecutors.
The proposal immediately drew protests from the bail industry, which stands to
lose business, and from defense attorneys who argue the change would create
millions in new costs for the state, strip citizens of their rights and further
degrade a court system that already struggles to efficiently process cases.
“If you want to make Guantanamo Bay the state of the law in New Jersey, follow
the governor’s lead,” said Jack Furlong, a Ewing defense attorney who
represents bail bond firms. “Otherwise, look for some more reasonable response
to the problem.”
EMULATING THE SYSTEM
In arguing for his proposal, Christie cited a 2007 study by the Bureau of
Justice Statistics that found that about 1 in 6 defendants released while
awaiting trial was arrested for new offenses, and of that number, more than 1/2
were arrested on felony charges.
“Revising our bail procedures and allowing judges to consider certain factors,
such as the dangerousness of the offender to the community before being
released back into society, is just a simple common sense reform that is long
overdue in this state,” Christie said.
One objection is the potential cost of deciding which arrestees are too
dangerous to release. The federal system uses pretrial services officers, or
PSOs, who research defendants’ backgrounds and advise judges, and in some cases
monitor defendants who have been released with ankle bracelets or other
Furlong argued that matching the manpower requirements of the federal model
would require a massive reorganization of the courts at enormous cost to the
“The federal model has a caseload of 15 to 1, so there is one PSO for every 15
persons out on pretrial release,” said Furlong, who represents ABC Bail Bonds,
which operates storefront bail bond businesses on South Broad Street and North
Clinton Avenue. “If you introduce that into the state system, you would be
creating an entire new bureaucracy.”
Christie did not give details on how prisoners would be evaluated for continued
detention. He said he did not expect the state to make much use of the kind of
supervision provided by federal pretrial services officers.
“Right now we don’t use bracelets and house arrests. That’s what pretrial
services spends most of its time doing,” he said during the news conference.
“That’s what we’ll have to consider in the enabling legislation going forward.
But, what I envision is that we’re just going to have a lot more people
Furlong also argued that, since New Jersey courts see many more defendants than
the federal courts do, the state would have to triple its number of beds for
pretrial detainees. Christie said he hoped to avoid crowding or higher costs
through his companion proposal to release nonviolent drug offenders into rehab
“If we’re successful at putting that program forward, that’ll clear a lot of
space out for violent offenders to be held,” the governor said.
As he stood with the governor during the news conference, Bocchini threw his
support behind Christie’s argument.
“The violent offenders, those numbers I don’t think are going to be as high as
the numbers who will be able to be removed from the prisons and correctional
facilities for drug rehab,” Bocchini said. “At the same time, the numbers of
violent offenders will go up in light of a judge being able to remand them
until the time of trial.”
A CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution’s ban on “excessive
bail” does not grant federal defendants an absolute right to bail. But New
Jersey’s constitution is less equivocal, stating that “all persons” are
bailable except in death penalty cases.
Furlong said current court rules on imposing bail on violent suspects and
repeat offenders already function properly by imposing high bails that must be
paid in cash.
“I have, currently, 3 clients sitting in jail charged with non-capital offenses
and their bails are set in excess of $1 million. I can’t get them out if it was
lowered to $900,000,” he said. “These guys are not walking around with large
sums of money in their pocket.”
The current system is already so effective at holding people by setting high,
cash-restricted bail amounts that, in some cases, defendants have done more
jail time awaiting trial than they would likely be sentenced to after trial,
according to Barbara Moses, visiting clinical professor at Seton Hall
University School of Law.
The same 2007 study Christie cited Tuesday found that one in five detained
defendants had his or her case dismissed or was acquitted.
And the study found that the suspect groups judges would target under the new
laws are not necessarily the most likely to offend again. Drug-trafficking
defendants had higher predicted rates of misconduct than more violent suspects
charged with murder or rape.
“Denial of bail tends to be a devastating blow to any criminal defendant,”
Moses said. “Not only does it make it exponentially more difficult for him to
mount an effective defense at trial; it has enormous collateral consequences —
loss of employment, loss of custody over minor children, etc. — that often
cannot be undone even if the charges are later dropped or the defendant is
QUESTIONING THE INTENT
Christie has framed the reforms as designed to promote public safety, but
Furlong argued that fully funding state courts to allow quicker trials and
properly funding recession-wracked police departments would have a more
profound effect on public safety than the proposed reforms.
Critics say the state should focus on speeding up the judicial process, rather
than finding new ways to keep people in jail. Christie said that, separate to
the reforms, the state is always trying to improve turnaround times of cases.
“It’s something that prosecutors and people in criminal justice are working on
all the time, so I don’t see us at this point having speedy trial issues across
the state. I haven’t heard complaints about that,” he said. “But that’s
something we always have to keep an eye on, not only because of requirements we
have here inside the state, but federal constitutional provisions that
guarantee a speedy trial as well.”
Moses said other states that have adopted reforms similar to those floated by
Christie have encountered unintended consequences for the fair administration
“In states that permit pretrial detention without bail — or that allow judges
to set bail so high that impoverished defendants cannot possibly post it —
defendants are often presented with plea bargains which require them to plead
guilty to charges that they believe are unwarranted in return for relatively
short sentences, perhaps equivalent to the time they have already served while
awaiting trial,” she said.
“Many defendants take those plea bargains in order to get out of jail,
notwithstanding the sometimes draconian long-term consequences of having that
criminal conviction on their record,” Moses said.
Even Bocchini, who supports the reforms, said there is no evidence that
pretrial detentions would prevent crime.
“I don’t think this has been put out there as a deterrent to crime, because, if
someone is going to commit a crime, they worry about getting arrested,”
Bocchini said. “But once they are arrested, the deed is already done.”
(source: The Times of Trenton)
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