ST. LOUIS • Reginald Clemons, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 killings of two sisters at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge before his conviction was overturned in 2015, pleaded guilty to murder and other charges Monday in exchange for multiple sentences of life in prison.
Clemons, 46, pleaded guilty to five counts in all: two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of rape and one count of first-degree robbery.
Clemons admitted that he and three others met Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, and their cousin on the closed bridge late on the night of April 4, 1991.
They robbed the cousin, Thomas Cummins, of cash and a watch, Assistant Attorney General Gregory Goodwin said in court. They then raped the Kerry sisters, forced all three through a manhole and onto the substructure of the bridge and pushed the Kerrys off, he said. They forced Cummins to jump from the bridge at gunpoint, Goodwin said, but Cummins survived.
Julie Kerry’s body was found three weeks later in Pemiscot County. Robin Kerry’s body was never found.
DNA from Clemons and a co-defendant, Marlin Gray, indicative of sexual activity, was found on pants Gray wore during the crime, the plea says.
After Goodwin explained what prosecutors would have proven had the case gone to trial, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison turned to Clemons and asked, “Is what the state said true?”
“Yes, your honor,” Clemons responded.
In exchange for his guilty pleas, Clemons was immediately sentenced to five consecutive life prison sentences. In Missouri, life means 30 years. The prison terms are also consecutive to a 15-year sentence Clemons received after being convicted of attacking a prison employee.
Ginny Kerry, the mother of Julie and Robin, watched Monday’s plea, as did Clemons’ relatives.
Outside the courtroom, Ginny Kerry said, “It’s been 26 years. I’m glad it’s over. And I’m glad he’s finally admitted his guilt. I’m tired of all the lies.”
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment.
The plea means that Clemons won’t be subject to the death penalty, which prosecutors had been seeking.
His trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 8.
Clemons’ family, activists and some politicians and public figures have long advocated on his behalf, and his case has been the subject of multiple appeals and special hearings.
A federal judge tossed out Clemons’ death penalty in 2002, saying that six prospective jurors were improperly excluded for expressing reservations about capital punishment.
An appeals court reinstated the punishment in 2004, then stayed the execution in 2009.
That same year, the Missouri Supreme Court appointed a special master to examine Clemons’ claims.
In 2013, that special master reported that Clemons hadn’t proven his “actual innocence,” but he did fault prosecutors for what he said was their failure to turn over evidence that detectives beat Clemons into confessing.
Jennifer Joyce, who as St. Louis circuit attorney made that decision, called Clemons a “monster” in a comment on the Post-Dispatch story about Clemons’ plea.
“Clemons is a monster to put the victims’ family through this decades-long ordeal, knowing he was guilty of these unspeakable crimes all along. Many well-meaning people were sucked into his false claims of innocence, and he didn’t care about them either. He is truly one of the worst criminals I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime,” she wrote.
Another special master was appointed this summer to examine claims that the Missouri attorney general’s office had improperly obtained jailhouse visitor logs and telephone recordings.
Clemons’ co-defendants were sentenced long ago.
Marlin Gray, 38, was executed in 2005 for his role in the sisters’ deaths. Antonio D. Richardson, now 43, is serving life without parole. Daniel Winfrey, now 42, was 15 at the time of the killings and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to up to 30 years and was paroled in 2007, but returned to prison for parole violations in 2011 and 2012 and is currently at the Farmington Correctional Facility.
UPDATED Dec. 19 with information about DNA evidence.