Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Great News!" Execution Has Been Stayed!

From Reggie Clemons received a stay of execution today (story here) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit! This is great news, however, please continue to show your support for Reggie by signing the online petition, writing to Governor Nixon and attending upcoming events in support of Reggie’s campaign.

Note from Susan C: "This just in from the director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty. Note that the stay of execution is temporary until the court receives a determination in another case. Those of us opposed to executions on moral grounds need to continue to share information with others. I know this is not a pleasant topic, but executions are done in our name and with our tax money. Did you know that capital cases actually cost the taxpayers more in the long run than other types of cases? And what is accomplished?"

From Jamala Rogers: Yesterday, Reggie received a “stay of execution” by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. While this was joyful news, it merely means that the execution was temporarily postponed. This will probably be until at least when a decision is made by the 8th Circuit on the motion before them on lethal injection by attorneys for Reggie and a few other death row inmates.

Let us savor this temporary victory but we CANNOT rest on our laurels. The work to save Reggie’s life is still in high gear and it must continue. Many events are being planned by the Justice for Reggie Campaign in conjunction with other groups; the documentary Borrowed Time is being shown; letters to Governor Nixon are still being sent; and petitions are still being collected.

Please visit Reggie’s website regularly to check out updates and information. And again, thanks for all of your hard work.

PS. Reggie, Vera Thomas and Jamala Rogers will be on 104.9’s Sunday Morning Live tomorrow (June 7) from 10:30 am-Noon.

Here are a few of the letters and comments I have received after posting my open letter to the Governor:

Governor Jeremiah Nixon
201 W. Capitol Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101-1556

Dear Gov. Nixon,

I am pleading for your mercy to grant a stay of execution for Reginald Clemons. I was employed at the St. Louis City Workhouse while he was awaiting trial. The first question he asked when he arrived was "The truth will come out when we go to trial. Right?"

After witnessing the brutality of young men and women housed in the institution, I have firsthand experience in assessing the demeanor of a killer. This question is one that would have never been asked by a guilty person. In fact, it is the question that still haunts me every time I hear about this case.

The more I learn about the case, the more disturbing it becomes. I will not go into detail of the all of the blatant inconsistencies and misconduct that you are well aware of but I cannot be silent any longer. If this execution goes forward, there will blood on the State's hands, not Reginald's.

Finally, I implore you to listen to your heart, pray, and trust God that you make the right decision, and let this young man live.

Respectfully, Rita Kirkland.


Governor Jeremiah Nixon
201 W. Capitol Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101-1556
FAX (573) 751-1495

Dear Governor Nixon,

I write today with a plea that you halt the execution of Reggie Clemons scheduled for June 17. You hold all the power now and I remind you that such power should be exercised with the utmost of caution. I submit that in Reggie’s case, every reason to have doubt exists. For this reason, you cannot, you mustn’t allow his execution. I have always understood that execution is reserved for premeditated crimes done by the most violent of offenders. I again submit Reggie’s case does not meet such criteria.

I admit that I am a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but never have I been so appalled as to make a plea to the governor of my state who can choose humanity in my name … or murder. I insist that Reggie’s execution would be murder. Please do not allow it.

You have undoubtedly received a great deal of correspondence asking you to halt this execution. No doubt you have reviewed the facts of the case. No doubt you believe in the justice system. No doubt you are concerned with those in your constituency who want justice for the Kerry sisters. I understand. I wish for justice for the Kerry sisters, too, but too much doubt exists here. Please, go speak with Reggie. Sit down with him. Learn everything you must before you allow this happen. I believe if you look him in the eyes, you will be unable to allow it. Because doubt exists, you cannot allow this to move forward.

Please do not sit back and allow the system to run its course here. You hold a power of enviable proportions. You can choose to sit back or stand up. I pray you will stand up for all of us who do not wish the state to murder on our behalf. I pray you will stand up for what’s right. To do otherwise is indefensible.

Please, Governor Nixon, do the right thing. Call off this execution. Call it off today. Give Reggie clemency today. Please. Do not execute in my name!

Most sincerely, Vicki Anton-Brown

Cc: Steve Long, chair of the Division of Parole and Probation (573) 751-8501

I also wanted to share this passionate response from Paula Skillicorn, widow of Dennis Skillicorn, the inmate executed by the state on May 20, 2009:

Mr. Brown,

I appreciate your support for clemency for Reggie Clemons. Your column was powerful. You are well-versed in Reggie's case.

Unfortunately, you obviously did not do your homework on my husband's case. Even the state admitted Dennis killed no one - at least they admitted it until the tide turned against them and people came out is support of clemency.

Yes, my husband was a drug addict and criminal. Yes, he participated in criminal behavior that ultimately resulted in murder. Yes, he belonged in prison for that behavior and life without the possibility of parole would have been a fair and just sentence. In fact, Dennis tried to plead guilty for a LWOP sentence, which would have saved the county and state millions of dollars, but it was an election year, and his offer was turned down.

Your assertion, "There's no doubt that Skillicorn murdered. In 1994, he killed an innocent man, a good Samaritan no less, Richard Drummond, a man who stopped to help Skillicorn and his companions after their car stalled." is absolutely wrong.

The killer has consistently insisted that Dennis did not know Allen Nicklasson was going to kill Richard Drummond. Nicklasson made that assertion 20 minutes after the murder to his girlfriend, and consistently told authorities the same thing. However, prosecutors prevented jurors from hearing that confession. As a result, the appellate courts would not listen to it either.

Prosecutor Page Bellamy later admitted to telling jurors Dennis was involved in a murder that Bellamy knew had not happened, but used anyway. He waited to admit this in court until it was too late in the appellate process for courts to address that misconduct.

Dennis' family and supporters did not have to swear he had changed his life. A mountain of evidence spanning 14 years demonstrated the sincerity and consistency of who Dennis really was. A great deal of evidence came from staff and volunteers who worked with Dennis on a daily basis. None of them would have put their jobs or positions on the line unless they knew for a fact that Dennis was a changed person.

I applaud your efforts to make Nixon see how his choice of violence is wrong. Vera is my friend, and I care about Reggie. Like my husband, Vera’s son is not worthy of death. I don't want any more families to go through the horror that the state put my family through. Nixon needs to do the right thing -- stop killing people and stop destroying innocent families. Because I, too, am tired of people being killed in my name.

Sincerely, Paula Skillicorn

Click here for activities Skillicorn led at Potosi Correctional
Click here for Skillicorn one-page "Fact Sheet:"

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Open Letter to Gov. Jay Nixon: "I Don't Want to Kill Anymore"

To the Attention of:
Gov. Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon
201 W. Capital Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101

Dear Gov. Nixon: Soon, if not already, your office will be inundated with letters from Missourians asking that you spare the life of death row inmate Reginald Clemons. My letter is included.

Reggie, as you know, was one of four young men charged and convicted of raping and pushing sisters Julie and Robin Kerry off the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1991.

After nearly four years without an execution, the state has begun killing again. We executed Dennis Skillicorn, 49, on May 20. I say "we" because the actions of the state are done in our name.

There are many of us, however, who can't abide murder in our name. Because the Missouri Supreme Court recently denied Reggie's request for a stay of execution, we turn to you, Governor, our last hope.

There's no doubt that Skillicorn murdered. In 1994, he killed an innocent man, a good samaritan no less, Richard Drummond, a man who stopped to help Skillicorn and his companions after their car stalled. Although his family and supporters swore Skillicorn had changed in prison and was known as a "role model" to other prisoners, you denied his clemency, noting that Skillicorn had killed before (and after) Drummond's death.

Without your stay, we citizens were forced to murder a murderer - not at the spur of the moment, but through a planned, deliberate, state-sanctioned action.

I argue that murder is murder. It is not justice.

That's why I joined others who wrote to you, our governor, asking for clemency in Reginald Clemons' case.

This blog addition serves to reach out to you further, Jay - not Gov. Nixon, just Jay, the son of a DeSoto, MO teacher, mayor and police judge, a former small town lawyer, a husband, father of two sons and a dedicated member of First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City.

This is a special plea to Jay, a man whose bio boasts of a willingness to restore "integrity," address "corruption," and fight "the toughest fights," and win.

Before Nixon, the governor, makes his decision, I'm hoping Jay, the small town lawyer, will thoroughly examine Reggie's case, dig deep, ask hard question and have the courage to reject the mob-like mentality of vengeance and revenge and say, "No, not this time!"

A Matter of Justice?

The tragic case of the Kerry Sisters has been well-documented by national and local media. If you need to refresh your memory, Gov. Nixon, a detailed analysis of the case and the courts' decisions can be found here.

We covered the Chain of Rocks Bridge case extensively in my now defunct publication, Take Five Magazine. I also wrote about the unsettling facts of the arrests and trials when I worked as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The case is riddled with reasonable doubt, charges of police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.

The Kerry sisters were white. Three of the four suspects eventually arrested and convicted for the crime were African-Americans.

Reggie and two others, Antonio Richardson and Marlin A. Gray, received death sentences. The lone white defendant, Daniel Winfrey, was given a 30-year sentence after he plead guilty and testified against the others. The courts commuted Richardson's sentence to life in prison in 2004 after ruling that a jury, not a judge, should have sentenced him to death.

Gray was executed by lethal injection in October 2005. When he was executed, prosecutor's described him as the "mastermind of the murders."

If that's the case, why is the state going through with the execution of Reggie? Prosecutors brought forth no evidence linking him to the crimes and conceded he did not plan their deaths or push them from the bridge.

"Reggie’s case is marked by the familiar litany of abuses found in so many capital cases: police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. It is also a textbook case of reasonable doubt, a fundamental element of our criminal justice system that requires especially intense consideration in death penalty cases.Actor, human rights activist Danny Glover (For more click here)"

Gov. Nixon, there are several facts about this case that I hope you find disturbing.

Tom Cummins, the Kerry sisters' cousin, served as the state's star witness. Before police arrested Reggie and his three alleged accomplices, Cummins was their number one suspect. On the night of the murders, he told police a group of youths ordered him to jump off the bridge after they had pushed the Kerry sisters into the river. Police doubted the story. Cummins showed no signs of being in the river or swimming against its deadly currents. According to police reports, he had no injuries and his hair was dry and neatly-combed.

Under questioning, Cummins implicated himself in the death of his cousins, stating they had fallen from the bridge after he made an advance toward one of them. He was charged with murder but later recanted the story, saying police beat the confession out of him.

Police found a flashlight on the bridge and traced it to Antonio Richardson, one of the youths on the bridge that night. After Richardson implicated himself, Daniel Winfrey, Marlin Gray and Reginald Clemons, police suddenly found merit in Cummins' questionable version of events.

Marlin Gray was one of the four young men police arrested for the crime. Gray also recanted his confession, claiming that he too, was beaten and that police coerced his confession. Gray and Cummins gave nearly identical accounts of their beatings by the same interrogating officers.

The trial court denied Gray's motion to suppress his confession that he raped and murdered the Kerry sisters. Gray's lawyers maintain that the prosecutor, Nels Moss, knew of Cummins' beating claim but never shared that information with Gray's attorneys. If the court knew that both men were beaten, his lawyers argue, it might have stricken Gray's confession.

When Cummins was arrested for the murders, he initially told police he only saw "a hand" push his cousins. During Gray's trial, he adapted his story, testifying it was Gray's hand he saw.

Reggie's parents say police detectives had no warrant when they arrested their son at his home in suburban St. Louis. In fact, Vera Thomas, Reggie’s mother, said police told her Reggie did not need a lawyer. She believed them. After all, Reggie, 19 at the time, had no criminal record and showed no signs of criminal behavior.

Reggie also claimed police beat the confession out of him (click here to read excerpts from Clemons' April 7, 1991 taped confession). His bruises were so severe that during his arraignment in April 1991, Judge Michael David sent him to the hospital for treatment.

Even though Reggie maintained his confession was coerced and, to this day, has never admitted pushing the Kerry Sisters off the bridge -- the state sees fit to execute him.

On the day Reggie was sentenced to death in 1993, Cummins filed a lawsuit against the Police Department and reportedly later received a $150,000 settlement.

"Before April 1991, I hadn’t given much thought to the criminal justice system. I just assumed people got fair trials and if someone was convicted, they must be guilty. I’d hear hideous descriptions about what someone did and think they were a horrible person. I didn’t find out until Reggie’s case that what you see in the news or even in court is not always the whole story." -- Vera Thomas, Reginald Clemons’s mother (For more click here)

Governor, many will say that Reggie's case has been thoroughly reviewed by the courts. Indeed, in 1998, after lawyers filed a petition in federal court detailing the numerous problems with Reggie’s conviction -- including lack of evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective counsel, police brutality, the fact of innocence and an unconstitutional jury selection process (in a city with a population of more than 50 percent black, only two of the twelve jurors who heard Reggie's case were African-American) -- United States District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry ruled Reggie’s death sentence "unconstitutional."

That decision was overturned in 2004 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Although Reggie’s death sentence was reinstated, Judge Michael Melloy, (a George W. Bush nominee) argued in his dissent that Reggie’s constitutional rights had been violated and his death sentence should not be imposed.

Was "justice," really served in this case? It's a question that a former small town lawyer might want to ask himself while he deliberates.

Gov. Nixon, you were born a year before me on February 13, 1956. We were raised during a time when the mere accusation of black men raping or assaulting white women was cause for death or incarceration. I implore you, Governor, reflect on those times while reading court transcripts from the Chain of Rocks Bridge murder case.

Decipher the words used by then prosecutor, Nels Moss, who, during the penalty phase of Gray's trial described the defendant's white, female character witnesses as "followers of Charles Manson."

You'll come across another part in the court's transcripts where Moss uses other code words. He reminded jurors that crime was out of control and he detailed shootings that may happen on their block. Note how Moss suggested killing Gray was a way to deal with escalating crime.

Do you think those words might have prejudiced the case, Mr. Nixon?

The appeals document lists several rulings that state: "A prosecutor may not urge jurors to convict a criminal defendant in order to protect community values, preserve civil order, or deter future lawbreaking."

Isn't that exactly what Moss did?

Perhaps this explains why on the same day Reggie's trial ended in 1993, the trial judge sanctioned the prosecutor for improper behavior. A few months later, the court held that the prosecutor was in direct criminal contempt for his actions in the courtroom. The judge imposed a monetary fine on the prosecutor. Reggie, however, was sentenced to death.

Again, was justice really served?

Governor, you were elected last year under a nationwide banner of "Change." With more than a million black men in our nation's prisons (many for non-violent crimes) and disproportionate numbers of minorities sitting on death row waiting to be killed, many voters want reasoned political leadership and courageous intervention.

Dozens of death row inmates have been exonerated in recent years, thanks in part to new DNA testing techniques. Even former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who was later convicted of a felony, recognized that the death penalty is "reserved almost exclusively for the poor and people of color." Ryan, who understands that the death penalty is no deterrent to crime, called for a moratorium on state-sanctioned killing in Illinois.

If a flawed politician can recognize institutional flaws in the system and muster the courage to say "no more," surely, Governor, a man of your caliber can also rise to the challenge.

Mr. Nixon, both you and I are husbands and fathers. If there's no other choice, we will kill if our spouses or our children are under immediate, life-threatening danger. Barring this, there are "other" ways to punish murderers without becoming killers ourselves.

I'm hoping this reaches the heart of the Jay Nixon who attends First United Methodist Church. I'm not talking to a politician like the one Christine Nema described in her letter to the Post-Dispatch after the death of Skillicorn who "assent(s) to popular opinion."

No, I'm talking to the man who prays for forgiveness in church; the man who professes to follow Jesus' teachings and understands that "vengeance" is in the Lord's hands not those of "imperfect Man" incapable of righteously deciding who should live or who should die.

I'm hoping a Christian heart will take time and truly investigate and contemplate, before making his decision about clemency. If you can, Mr. Nixon, watch FOX 2 reporter Bornita Cornute's three-part interview with Reggie. (Part One aired on On July 29, 2008, Parts Two & Three were posted on the station's website). The facts of the case and Reggie's own words may give you the needed pause and the resolve to do the courageous thing.

When you refused to give clemency to Richard Skillicorn, Mr. Governor, you said it was because he killed and killed again. I don't condone your decision but I want to trust your reasoning.

What reasoning applies to the murder of Reggie?

No court has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he killed. Will Reggie's execution bring solace to the victims' family?

I can't imagine their pain and sorrow. But I have met many, many family members of murder victims who have risen above their pain and publicly called for a halt to the death penalty. These people substituted humanity for pain.

These courageous souls are on my mind as I reach out to you, Jay Nixon. This is your chance to do something courageous, your chance to stand for humanity, to be Reggie's last hope, to truly speak for the citizens of this state who want no part of murder in our name.


The facts about Reginald Clemons and the Chain of Rocks Bridge case posted in this blog were compiled from my articles and columns written in Take Five Magazine and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and from the "Justice for Reggie web site at:

The deadline for clemency petitions for Reginald Clemons is Friday, June 12.

Sample letters can be found HERE. Send to Gov. Nixon (see address above) and a copy to Steve Long, Chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole at 1511 Christy / Jefferson City, MO 65101

For more information contact: JUSTICE for Reggie Campaign (314) 367-5959

SJR's Latest Edition: "Sylvester Brown Silenced by the Post"

Much of the latest edition of The St. Louis Journalism Review is dedicated to my departure from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

SJR gives an in-depth analysis of the story, complete with brief comments from Post editors Arnie Robbins and Adam Goodman. Retired Post-Dispatch reporter Roy Malone and Mark P. Barnett, an adjunct instructor with St. Louis University's communications department, examined the allegations regarding my dismissal from the newspaper in April and speculated on some of the motives behind what had become a contentious relationship between me and some editors.

Barnett describes, for example, how Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff and campaign manager, Jeff Rainford, called editors to convince them to change the late edition of the Feb. 15 issue which contained my "unflattering" column about Slay. After much "hand-wringing by Post editors," Barnett wrote, "the column was not changed."

I had to chuckle as Barnett wrote about my use of late rapper Tupac Shakur's lyrics, "Shorty's gonna be a thug," to describe what I considered Slay's heavy-handed tactics.

The song, Barnett wrote "... contained a double-whammy that could be interpreted that Brown believed Slay was a thug and vertically challenged."

I stand by the "thug" part, though I honestly hadn't even considered the "shorty" reference relating to Slay's height.

I was "a marked man" Malone wrote, as he detailed the Post-Dispatch's attempts to survive after it was bought by Lee Enterprises in 2005. The article relates that the struggling newspaper entered into a contradictory relationship with Slay after publisher Kevin Mowbray set out to "smooth things out" with the mayor who, at the time, described the Post as "a poor editorial product..."

Charles Klotzer, SJR's editor and publisher emeritus, really sliced through the fog and pinpointed reasons why the Post might have let me go.

"While Brown certainly discussed racial issues, his underlying theme was not 'blackness' but liberalism. You found in his columns a progressive, open-minded and balanced discussion of core issues that beset our society.

So to become more acceptable to the conservative segment of our community, the Post had to get rid of the most outspoken liberal writer on its staff ..."

SJR's coverage brought back memories of my interactions with editors shortly before we parted ways. In retrospect the brief, stilted, non-news related conversations and hesitancy to look me in the eye spoke volumes.

The editors and I weren't buddies but, in the past and on occasion, we talked -- about our kids, our spouses, and the challenges within our industry. Despite our differences, I considered them colleagues. I'm still stunned how quickly those "colleagues" threw me under the bus. Since their tissue-thin allegations make no sense, as evidenced by the latest SJR and investigations by the St. Louis American Newspaper, I can see that something was in the making long before I was forced out of the newsroom.

About a year ago, at an ACLU event featuring singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, I bumped into Klotzer. The experienced media watchdog, whom I've always respected, asked how I managed to keep my job while being so outspoken.

I don't recall my exact answer, but Klotzer said I implied, "as long as it lasts, it lasts."

Sounds like something I'd say.

It's easy to get angry and worked up all over again after reading the account in SJR but, thankfully, I have met and interviewed people who have made far greater sacrifices for their non-traditional positions.

At the ACLU event, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Harry Belafonte. I asked if he regrets the respect, rewards and recognition denied him due to his years of in-your-face activism. The seasoned humanitarian looked me in the eyes, smiled and shared words that give me solace and direction today: "I've been blessed. At 80, I'm learning all over again. Life is sparkling clear for me because I'm fully engaged."

It's weird, "fully engaged" describes my feelings since leaving the Post. As long as that lasts ... it lasts, I guess.

The St. Louis Journalism Review is available at Left Bank Books. For details on other area locations and/or subscription rates call the SJR at (314) 991-1699 / e-mail: or visit