ST. LOUIS — Two mothers on different sides of a death row case involving their children sat a few rows apart in a courtroom as they listened to one police official after another testify last week for the prosecution that Reggie Clemons did not tell them that he had been beaten by the police as Clemons has stated is the reason he confessed to raping two sisters who were thrown off the old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Vera Thomas, Clemons' mother, sat alongside her husband, Pastor Reynolds Thomas, staring straight ahead listening intently to every witness. She has been fighting for 21 years to get her son, who she believes is innocent, off death row.
Virginia Kerry, the mother of victims Robin Kerry, 19, and Julie Kerry, 20, who Clemons and three co-defendants were convicted of murdering, sat in the front row looking and listening. She believes authorities have properly prosecuted the persons responsible for killing her daughters.
Both women appeared to be very emotional. Neither looked in the direction of the other. Family members and friends on both sides surrounded both to give them support.
Clemons, 41, is trying to get a new trial because he said he was beaten into making a confession to police implicating himself in the case.
The Kerry sisters were forced from the old Chain of Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River in 1991. Police said the two women were raped before they were pushed into the river.
On Thursday, the prosecution and defense wrapped up a four-day evidentiary hearing before Special Master Michael Manners, who is a circuit judge from Jackson County, Mo. It could be January before Manners makes a decision in the case.
Several police officials who were on duty in 1991 when Clemons was arrested testified that they did not see any swelling on his face. But, a jail investigator did, according to Clemons' attorneys. Also, it was learned in court that the two officers who Clemons said beat him, Chris Pappas and Lt. John Brower, asserted their Fifth Amendment rights when they were asked to answer questions.
Several individuals who were offered by the prosecution as DNA experts testified that Clemons could not be ruled out as a contributor to the DNA mixes they tested. But, they admitted, too, through questioning by defense attorney Andrew Clay, that the tests could not with 100 percent accuracy say that Clemons' DNA was present in the DNA they tested.
Joyce Taylor, a processing/booking clerk, was working April 7, 1991, when Clemons was booked into the St. Louis city jail. She testified that it was between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when Clemons was brought over with a police officer or detective.
Clemons did not complain that he had been beaten by the police. But, she said, "the prisoner normally doesn't speak to the clerk. We take what the officer gives us. Normally a police officer is standing with him," Taylor testified.
Taylor said she did not notice any swelling to Clemons face. And, she said he was in her presence for about 15 minutes.
Warren Williams is a former St. Louis city police officer and detective who was once married to Clemons' mother's cousin. He said Vera Thomas, Clemons' mother, called him and asked him to see where her son was and what was going on with him because she had not been able to get in touch with anyone since two detectives, Chris Pappas and John Walsh, took him from her home on April 7, 1991, allegedly to talk to him. It was April 9, 1991, when Williams was called.
Williams said when he visited Clemons in a jail cell, he did not see a swollen face and that Clemons did not complain to him that he had been beaten. But he said Clemons' eyes were red.
He said Clemons told him that he had already given the police a statement about what happened. Williams said Clemons told him that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. "He was delivering pizza," he said. "(Clemons) said they raped the girls and threw them off the bridge, but he had nothing to do with it," Williams said.
Williams said that he took Clemons' comments to him to mean "that he was a part of it."
Defense attorney Josh Levine pointed out that Williams had been an employee with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for 30 years and by 1991 had divorced the relative who connected him to Clemons' family. Then, Levine asked him if he were loyal to the police department. Williams hesitated briefly and then answered "yes."
Under questioning from prosecutor Sue Boresci, Williams said, "I interpreted (Clemons) had participated in the rape, but not in throwing the girls off the bridge."
A watch commander at the police department testified that Clemons and Marlin Gray, a co-defendant who was put to death by the state of Missouri after he was convicted in the case, both filed injury complaints.
One retired policeman, Jack Huelsmann, who in 1991, worked as a sergeant investigator with the city police department, said he did not see any swelling on Clemons' face, but noted a small hole in the inside of his mouth. Huelsmann said he thought Clemons had bitten his lip.
Levine asked Huelsmann whether he was aware that a jail investigator had seen lumps on Clemons face. He said no.
Levine, noting that something was crossed out on the form that was signed indicating no medical problems for Clemons. He handed the document to Huelsmann and asked whether he could read it. Huelsmann could not. Levine said, "It looks like a 'p' or a 'b.' Could it be bruises?"
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 239-2503.