Thirty years after a white minister's son was beaten to death in the Central West End, one black man remains in prison. But there's plenty of guilt to go around.

As police learned more about Washington, they found that he'd spent two stretches over the past year confined at the VA's Jefferson Barracks facility, where records indicated he "has a long history of alcohol dependance [sic], paranoia, schizophrenia and suffers from auditory hallucinations."

Though he insisted that both he and Weems had been attacked, under questioning he variously claimed his attackers were black, white and his friends.

On Sunday, August 15, 1982, police arrested Lindsey Washington on suspicion of murder.

Eric Clemmons is serving a life term for the 1982 murder of Todd Weems. Tried for the same crime, Clemmons' half-brother Stanley Barnes was sentenced to twelve years and served six and a half.
Tony D'Souza
Eric Clemmons is serving a life term for the 1982 murder of Todd Weems. Tried for the same crime, Clemmons' half-brother Stanley Barnes was sentenced to twelve years and served six and a half.

Then the case took a new turn. The following afternoon a confidential informant told detectives that a resident of the 4200 block of Maryland, Stanley Barnes, claimed he'd been followed home from work on the night of August 13 by a black man and a white man who'd made "sexual gestures" toward him, then tried to rob him. Barnes, along with his half-brother and several friends, had "joined in beating up" the pair.

The owner of the City Cousin restaurant at Lindell and Euclid, where Barnes worked as a kitchen helper, provided corroboration, telling police that when Barnes came to work on August 14, he'd told her he'd been confronted the night before by two men, one black, the other white. The men "had made some type of sexual gesture" to him and followed him home, whereupon Barnes and others administered "a good whipping."

Detectives apprehended Barnes at the restaurant. Under questioning he supplied the names of four fellow assailants: his half-brother Eric Clemmons, age twenty; a neighbor on Maryland, sixteen-year old Keith Fair; nineteen-year-old Antonio Hawkins, who lived with the Fair family; and twenty-year-old Gerald Williams.

By nine o'clock that night, all five were in custody and telling various versions of the story the schizophrenic Lindsey Washington had supplied as an alibi: They'd been the ones who had attacked him and Todd Weems.

When a reporter pitched Riverfront Times a story last year about a St. Louis man's plea for clemency on his 30-year-old capital-murder conviction, my first inclination as editor was to turn him down. Stories like this too often veer from news to advocacy; it's not my brand of journalism.

A few days later, though, I took a closer look at the materials he'd sent me.

The murder victim's name: Todd Weems.

I hadn't known Todd Weems, though I'd gone to school with him at University City High. I'd first learned about his death only a few years earlier, from Suzy Rust, a woman I'd talked into contributing stories to the paper.

She said Weems was part of a group of U. City kids she hung out with, that he was murdered in 1982 after celebrating his 21st birthday with her and a dozen other friends in Forest Park. She told me the party had moved to the home of one of the kids, the son of KSDK anchor Karen Foss, and that not long afterward, Weems — drunk, stoned and tripping on LSD — had wandered off down the alley, away from Foss' house. He turned up dead the next morning.

The reporter had no information about any LSD, nor about Karen Foss, who read the lead-in to Channel 5's coverage of the killing without disclosing that the victim had disappeared from her home.

Clearly, there was more to the story. I told the writer to dig up everything he could.

Eric Clemmons was the first to go to trial, in the summer of 1983, on a charge of capital murder. Nancy Wagoner, a long-time parishioner at Trinity Presbyterian and a close family friend of the Weemses, was in attendance.

Seated in the kitchen of her U. City home, Wagoner — the neighbor who'd left the Champagne on Weems' doorstep the morning he was killed — says the murder "destroyed everyone." Don and Ann Weems were vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, and police had to summon Todd's younger brother, David, to the morgue to identify the body.

"We had a hard time grasping how it could happen to this family, to the pastor," says Wagoner.

Throughout the four-day trial, the courtroom gallery was divided, with Clemmons' family and friends on one side of the aisle, Weems' contingent on the other. "It was almost like the bride's side and the groom's side," Wagoner recalls.

Weems' friends testified. Though they stressed their friend's good character, prosecutor John Bauer compelled them to elaborate on Weems' drinking, drug use and erratic behavior. They weren't alarmed when Todd wandered away. But they began to worry, and Durham, Katz and John Taylor piled into Winkelmeyer's Chevy Suburban to search for him, to no avail.

They gave up and went home: He'd pulled this stunt before, sometimes passing out on neighbors' lawns. He'd always turned up safe.

Winkelmeyer said Weems had smoked pot that night. Durham had told police that Weems had reported drinking three ales earlier in the day, plus the Champagne. "Durham stated that the victim purchased a case of 9-0-5 beer and drank several of those and then he started drinking some V.O. that he (Durham) had, further stating that the victim was pretty 'wiped out,'" the investigative report reads. Medical examiner Mary Case testified that at the time of death, Weems' blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit. (The toxicology report did not include a test for LSD.)

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