ST. LOUIS | A federal appeals court granted a stay of execution Friday for a man convicted in the 1991 deaths of two women who were forced off an abandoned St. Louis bridge into the Mississippi River.
Reginald Clemons, 37, had been scheduled to die by chemical injection June 17. His lawyers filed a motion May 29 asking the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to delay the execution while they challenge Missouri's execution procedure.
The court granted the stay Friday afternoon in a one-sentence, unsigned order.
Clemons was one of four men convicted in the deaths of 21-year-old Julie Kerry and her 19-year-old sister, Robin. The men had randomly come across the sisters and their male cousin on the night of April 4, 1991, on the abandoned Chain of Rocks Bridge.
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Defendant Daniel Winfrey, who testified against the others as part of a plea agreement, maintained that Clemons suggested the group rob the sisters and their cousin, Tom Cummins, and that the sisters were raped while Cummins was restrained.
Prosecutors said the three then were forced through a manhole in the bridge deck to a platform below the bridge. They said the sisters were pushed off and died, but that Cummins survived the 70-foot jump into the river.
Supporters of Clemons, who was 19 at the time of the crime, say he was beaten by police into falsely confessing to raping one of the sisters. He was convicted of murder as an accomplice, and the rape confession was used as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his murder trial.
Winfrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has been released from prison and is on parole.
Another defendant, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2005. The death sentence for co-defendant Antonio Richardson was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993 because he had been sentenced by a judge after jurors deadlocked without agreeing on the factors needed for the death penalty.
Clemons' supporters have asked Gov. Jay Nixon to spare his life. His mother and stepfather delivered a letter to Nixon's Jefferson City office Thursday begging him to cancel the execution.
The parents say Clemons went to the bridge the night of the deaths and saw the Kerrys but that Clemons and his friends did not kill the women.
Nixon has said he will carefully consider the clemency request.
The Missouri Supreme Court last month denied a request to delay the execution in light of the ongoing federal case brought by Clemons and other inmates to evaluate the competency of those carrying out Missouri executions.
Missouri's execution process has been a key legal issue since a federal judge temporarily halted executions over concerns about the process in 2006.
In May, the state carried out its first execution since Gray — Clemons' co-defendant — was put to death in 2005.