Rev. Elston K. McCowan shouted out to an assembly of more than 150 people in a call-and-response chant. With a preacher’s fervor, he made it clear what he wanted.
“No justice? No peace! No justice? No peace! No justice? No peace!”
Friends, family members and human rights advocates gathered of Saturday, Sept. 15 at Kiener Plaza in support of death row inmate Reginald Clemons.
Clemons was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1991 for the deaths of sisters Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19. The women were said to have been raped and then forced to jump to their deaths from the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Clemons confessed to the crime, but has since withdrawn his statement. Clemons said police coerced his confession by beating him. Clemons’ attorneys have worked the last 15 years for free, but other costs have been incurred. Clemons’ stepfather, Bishop Reynolds Thomas, said those costs forced him and his wife, Vera Thomas, to declare bankruptcy last year. Bishop Reynolds Thomas said Amnesty International, sponsor of the Sept. 15 rally, has agreed to cover all future expenses for the case.
“Amnesty International is here in support of Reggie and his family and believe this case has a long list of problems that need to be addressed,” said Ernest Coverson, Amnesty International Regional Field Organizer.
Speakers at the Sept. 15 rally alleged police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias. The rally also included a number of performances, ranging from poet Cheeraz Gorman to local rapper Tef Poe.
Margaret Phillips, a member of Missouri for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said potential jurors in the original trial might have been excluded on the basis of race.
Coverson said Amnesty International’s involvement in Clemons’ case has garnered international attention. He presented Clemons’ parents with a binder of 16,000 letters of support from across the world.
On Monday, Sept. 17, a special master, Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners, held the first hearing to reevaluate Clemons’ case. Special masters are appointed by a court to review a case on behalf of the court. After new evidence is presented, Manners will decide whether Clemons’ case can be argued before the Missouri Supreme Court.
Jamala Rogers, coordinator for the Justice For Reggie Campaign, said this is the first time the Missouri court has appointed a special master to review a death penalty case.
Clemons was one of four men charged in the murder. Daniel Winfrey pled guilty to second-degree murder and spent 15 years in prison. Clemons, Antonio Richardson and Marlon Gray were sentenced to death. Richardson’s sentence was reduced to life without parole due to his age, 16, at the time of the crime. Gray was executed in 2005.
Attendees at the rally were confident Clemons would not be executed like Gray. McCowan ended his speech with another chant.
“When I say Reggie, you say freedom — Reggie! Freedom! Reggie! Freedom!”