SLU tackles death penalty

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Reggie Clemons’ case causes outrage among many

 More than 20 years after the crime occurred, people across the United States are working to push Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to overturn the execution sentence of alleged criminal Reggie Clemons.

According to a statement made by Amnesty International, an organization dedicated to human rights issues including abolishment of the death penalty, Clemons is convicted of being an accomplice in the 1991 murder of Julie and Robin Kerry. Clemons is awaiting a September trial to review evidence and if he is again sentenced to death, people nationwide will urge Nixon to grant him clemency.

If given clemency, Clemons’ execution sentence would be eliminated and he would most likely serve life in prison instead.

After working to bring Sr. Helen Prejean, activist for abolition of the death penalty, to speak on March 28, Senior Jennifer Adkins, Campus Minister Ben Smyth, Theology professor Tobias Winright began working with Amnesty International to draw up plans to gain awareness about the Clemons case, and organize to move forward by petition.

“I jumped at this just because [Clemons] is a human being and he’s part of this world just like I am and if I was in this situation I would hope that someone would care,” said Adkins.

Everyone involved has been working closely with Amnesty International to draw up plans to gain awareness about the issue, and organize to move forward by petition.

Adkins and others are working on providing students with the St. Louis archdiocese’s official petition to request clemency, which should be available by the end of this week. While Amnesty International is always against the implementation of the death penalty, the organization states that the Clemons case “illustrates many of the flaws in the U.S. death penalty system.”

According to the fact sheet on the Amnesty USA website, there is no physical evidence that directly connects Clemons “to the crime or the events leading up to it,” and there have been questions about the reliability of both of the witnesses, and the jury selection. There have also been allegations of both police brutality and coercion to obtain a false confession from Clemons.  Adkins stated that Clemons’ guilt or innocence is not the point of this issue, because it is “unjust to take someone’s life” regardless.

“The main focus right now is exemplifying Reggie’s case and what went wrong with it, the injustice involved, and asking for clemency,” said Smyth.

He said that while abolishing the death penalty is the ultimate goal, clemency for Clemons would be a step in the right direction.

Parties involved plan on “stockpiling” the signatures obtained through petitioning until Amnesty International declares that it is the optimum moment to present the signatures to Governor Nixon, the one who has the power to grant clemency.

Adkins encourages SLU students to take action against this “human rights issue,” regardless of religious affiliation or belief system.

“This isn’t just about Catholicism or Christianity… If you want to take religion out of it, it’s just about human life and human rights and justice,” Adkins said.

Smyth agrees.

“I think it’s very important for the SLU community to be aware that this is a life issue… I think that we all really have to do a deep introspective look at why we as a society… support the death penalty,” said Smyth.

Smyth continued by saying that it is not effective as a deterrent for criminal behavior, it is much more expensive than keeping someone imprisoned for life, and is generally just used as a tool for revenge, as opposed to benefiting “the common good.”

“It’s a racist, unjust punishment that is unnecessary, ineffective at curbing violence, and for me as a Christian, one of the things [I use to] look at how we’re doing is not only how we treat the most vulnerable, but also our own enemies,” Smyth said.

Adkins stated that we have a duty to work to fulfill SLU’s mission statement by protecting and advocating for life at all stages.

We can’t be sedimentary items or people hoping that someone else will make the change,” she said.

Both Adkins and Smyth have encouraged potential signers to not be put off by Amnesty International’s viewpoints on other areas, because the organization’s views on the death penalty is very much in harmony with the Catholic Church’s.

To stay updated with the case and to access the petition, contact Campus Ministry or Jennifer Adkins.