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Reginald Clemons pleads guilty to Chain of Rocks murders

Reginald Clemons, pictured here during a 2012, court hearing, has pleaded guilty to the 1991 rape and murder of Julie and Robin Kerry.
St. Louis Post Dispatch | Pool photo
Reginald Clemons, pictured here during a 2012 court hearing, has pleaded guilty to the 1991 rape and murder of Julie and Robin Kerry.

Updated Dec. 18 at 5:10 p.m. with comments from attorneys for Clemons and former prosecutor Jennifer Joyce — A St. Louis man has admitted that he played a part in the 1991 rape and murder of two sisters on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Reginald Clemons pleaded guilty on Monday to robbery, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of rape for the deaths of Julie and Robin Kerry. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty.

“We hope that today brings some measure of peace to the Kerry family,” said Abigail Kohlman, an attorney for Clemons in a brief interview with St. Louis Public Radio. She would not answer questions about why Clemons dropped his long-standing claims that he had nothing to do with the murders.

The sisters were 20 and 19 in April 1991, when they and their cousin, Thomas Cummins, went to the Chain of Rocks Bridge so Julie Kerry, the older of the two sisters, could show Cummins a poem she had written. While on the bridge, they had a brief conversation with Clemons and three other men.

A short time later, the men, including Clemons, approached and surrounded the cousins. Cummins was ordered to the ground. Julie and Robin were raped repeatedly by Clemons and another co-defendant. All three were then ordered to a concrete pier below the bridge. The young women were pushed to their deaths, and Cummins was forced to jump, but survived.

In the plea deal, Clemons does not admit to being the one who pushed the sisters from the bridge. But he did say that he “did nothing to physically prevent the girls from being pushed into the river and stayed at the manhole preventing their escape.”

Clemons was convicted of murder in 1993 and sentenced to death. But the Missouri Supreme Court threw out his conviction in 2015, citing concerns that prosecutors had not turned over evidence bolstering Clemons’ claims he was beaten by police before falsely confessing to the crimes.

In 2016, Jennifer Joyce, then the circuit attorney in St. Louis, announced she would again try Clemons for the Kerry sisters’ deaths, and seek the death penalty. But she said a deal to take a death sentence off the table in exchange for a guilty plea was available for years.

“I’m relieved that he’s never going to get out of prison, and I am somewhat happy for the family that this is over,” Joyce said in an interview.  “I’m just heartbroken for them that they had to go through this kind of torture for 20 years before this guy eventually admitted what he did.”

After Joyce announced she would not run for another term as prosecutor, the attorney general’s office took over prosecution of the case.

“I hope that this guilty plea brings some measure of peace to the Kerry and Cummins families and the community as a whole,” attorney general Josh Hawley said in an emailed statement. “Violent acts like this will be prosecuted and perpetrators will not go unpunished in Missouri.”

One of Clemons’ co-defendants, Marlin Gray was executed in 2005. Antonio Richardson had his sentence commuted to life without parole to bring it in line with a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court rulingwhich mandates that juries, not judges, should hand down death sentences.

The fourth defendant, Daniel Winfrey, was 15 at the time of the crimes. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, rape and armed robbery in September 1992, and was sentenced to no more than 30 years in prison in exchange for his truthful testimony. He was paroled in June 2007, but had his parole revoked in 2011 and again in 2012, and is currently incarcerated at the Farmington Correctional Facility.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.