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.

The jury convicted Barnes of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to twelve years and was freed in 1989. Barnes, now a paralegal, says, "The overaggressive prosecutor along with their father gave [the Fair brothers and Antonio Hawkins] direction on what to say. [Weems] had every opportunity. It was his choices that brought him to that situation. We were poor, we were black. The only thing they cared about was a conviction."

Joseph Fair, the now-retired deputy sheriff whose sons turned the state's witnesses against their childhood friends Clemmons and Barnes, rejects any suggestion that he shielded the boys from charges or that they testified out of self-preservation.

"Eric's pissed off because he's the one that got the time, and he's implicating other people in it. This is nothing new. He said that back then," Fair asserts, adding, "If his jury had some blacks on it, he would have gotten less time. It was because Weems was a white boy."

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.

Dewayne Fair, who works for the city's parking-enforcement division, declined to comment for this story; the other Fair brothers did not respond to interview requests relayed via their father.

Gerald Williams avoided incarceration via plea bargain, and he served five years' probation. "Eric did hit [Weems] in the head, it wasn't a pipe, it was a piece of aluminum," Williams, now a St. Louis County bus driver says. "Keith Fair hit him with a boulder. 'Rat' (Antonio Hawkins) was stomping on his head. [After my release] I told Antonio, 'You didn't have to lie.' He said he couldn't take jail and was sorry."


Suzy wasn't a friend, exactly, but someone whose social circle had merged with mine for a brief time between high school and college.

She was blond and bright and funny. She grew up in stodgy Webster Groves, graduated from the old-money private school John Burroughs in a separate cultural universe from mine. To a U. City kid like me, she had a sophisticated air of the exotic. We ran into one another a few times. She flirted. My heart went pitter-pat. She went off to Boston in the fall and I didn't.

I left St. Louis in the mid-1980s but came home in 2004 to helm this paper. When I discovered Suzy was still living here and blogging about her passion for kitsch, I persuaded her to write blurbs about junk stores and flea markets for our annual "Best of St. Louis" series. Then came pieces for our food blog and, eventually, a few full-length features.

"I felt his arm around me when I took a walk the other day," Suzy writes in an e-mail to my request that she elaborate about Todd. "He called me 'Suze' as soon as we met, which usually only my oldest friends do. He looked like a young Keith Richards, complete with fangs and jack-o'-lantern grin. He had that indefinable 'it.'"

She writes that she was "utterly repelled" by Karen Foss' coldhearted response to the tragedy. "'Maybe Todd's death will make all of you reconsider how much you party,'" she says Foss scolded Weems' friends the day of the funeral. "I remember how utterly repellent that sounded. If anything, Todd's death made us party harder. Only it wasn't fun any more."

Now retired and living in Santa Fe, Karen Foss didn't respond to requests for comment relayed through her daughter.

Another prominent local newscaster, KMOX (now KMOV-TV Channel 4) anchorman Julius Hunter, had a connection to the case: He was a member of Don Weems' congregation at Trinity. "That group of kids that hung out in Forest Park were known to be enshrouded in a cloud of marijuana," relates Hunter, who says he helped the Weems family navigate media requests and avoided covering the story owing to the potential conflict of interest. "I vaguely remember a memorial service for Todd [in] Forest Park. We all had balloons, and after some words of tribute we ceremoniously released the balloons into the skies. There wasn't a dry eye at that point," Hunter says.

"I realize from my memories that I only knew Party Todd," Suzy tells me. "Maybe that's all there is to know of any teenager. He was a nut and a great guy and his death was my first real taste of bad."


"I do regret it now," says Eric Clemmons, now age 50, seated in the bare visiting room at Missouri's Southeastern Correctional Center near Cape Girardeau. "The [older convicts] told me to take a plea bargain. They said, 'You'll be out within eight years.' It seemed like way too much time." Clemmons says he turned down an offer of 25 years for second-degree murder, choosing to take his chances with a jury trial for what he believed was an act of self-defense.

Today the patch of ground where Todd Weems' body was discovered is covered by a Schnucks parking lot. But in 1982 Maryland Avenue still began at Sarah Street. The predominantly African-American eastern fringe of the city's Central West End was undergoing a period of uncomfortable transition. Neatly kept homes stood beside unkempt vacant lots. Working-class black households were hemmed in by seedy bars and a booming drug trade; patrons of Gene Lynn's Lounge had been known to open fire on patrons of the J.C. Lounge. "The Stroll," the infamous stretch of Washington Avenue where Lindsey Washington had gone looking for sex that night, was a quarter-mile away.

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45 comments
yayouright
yayouright

Suzy Rust is the same now as she was then - a spoiled, wealthy, screwed up person who toys with people till she's tired of them, then cuts them off in the cruelest way she can think of. She gets off on it. Any given relationship has about a 1 - 2 year lifespan with her, if that.  I'm sure she just got tired of Weems and chose not to be bothered to see if he could get home ok because she was done with him. Her guilty feelings about it now strike me as lame and, to be honest, pretty fake.

And this is a very poorly written piece - I have trouble believing it won an award.

vanvelkinburgh
vanvelkinburgh

why is this article still appearing in the news?  HE KILLED SOMEONE!!!!  He should have been executed long ago. If you need someone to be politcally correct and execute this person for the crime, I will pull the switch.

GetReal
GetReal

@trenchantone I don't think it's "white guilt" that these folks are feeling 30 years later. I think it's just plain old colorless "survivor guilt," Because of a night of stupid partying, their friend died but they lived.  In retrospect, they all wonder if maybe they could have influenced Weems somehow to stay at the party, even though the answer is most likely, "No, they couldn't have." 

GetReal
GetReal

@trenchantone Sure, in a perfect world, we could all wander around any neighborhood at night without worrying about getting murdered. In a perfect world, we could all leave our doors and cars unlocked, and gather in the Town Square to sing "Kumbaya." Screw that. We're talking STL. In the REAL WORLD, only a damned white fool ignores who he is --- or may look appear to those around him --- and goes wandering around some STL 'hood where he doesn't belong and makes himself an easy target for crime. It's just plain common sense. If you want to stay out of trouble, you don't put yourself smack dab in the middle of it and expect a positive outcome. That's called INSANITY. But as the story says, Weems was trippin' on acid the night of his 21st birthday after a solid day of guzzling champagne. Who knows what mental state he was in when he disappeared from the party...obviously, it wasn't very good. And he paid for the party with his life. Is that fair? No. Is that reality? Yes. Whoever killed Weems, whether deliberately or accidentally, deserves punishment, but let's not forget that Weems put himself in harm's way from the get-go. Everybody involved was messed up that night...the white kids at the party....the black men in the neighborhood...another American tragedy.

lcstrategy
lcstrategy

Poetry82; you are a racist bigot and totally ignorant.If whites accidentally kill blacks; the extreme bigoted media howlers racism/hate crime for eternity.when blacks kill whites, in a very heinous fashion; you claim accidental killing with no racial intent. The extreme bigoted media makes no claim of racism/hate crime that is the severest bigotry from you.

GetReal
GetReal

Nobody would bother to read about a bunch of black kids smoking crack and then wandering around North St. Louis and somebody gets killed. Hey, isn't that just another episode of Hood-2-Hood? Yawn.  No, what got this story this much ink is the fact that it involved bored white kids....a minister's son, and some the product of St. Louis's supposedly finest private schools...who liked to drink, get stoned, drop LSD, and sit around and discuss the meaning of Life, etc. One hot August night of partying followed by a foolish misstep down the wrong street sent one young man to an early grave and others to prison. I'm waiting for the movie to come out on the Lifetime channel.....

GetReal
GetReal

Editors, if you wanted to go the "30 Years Ago Today....Where Are They Now?" route, it would have made more sense to publish this article in August, the same month that the event actually occurred.  I don't understand what prompted you to run this article in December. Why is it in the News section?  What's the news --- the fact that one of Todd's old party buddies now feels like talking more openly about the tragedy than she did years ago?

TheMack
TheMack

From page 2 second section, "Stories like this too often veer from news to advocacy; it's not my brand ofjournalism."  Advocacy isn't a brand of journalism although you wouldn't know that from reading the RFT.  That emphasis on editorialism is reponsible for producing atrocities like FOX news and MSNBC and destroying the journalistic integrity worldwide.  Advocacy is for activists, nuns and attorneys, not journalists.

GetReal
GetReal

The Todd Weems story is tragic for everyone concerned, but some stupid white pseudo-intellectual stoner kid who wanders off into certain neighborhoods of St. Louis afterhours (or even in broad daylight) is really upping his odds of becoming a crime victim. By all accounts, Weems was intoxicated or in some way judgment impaired, and who knows what he may have said or done to provoke somebody's desire to kill him. His friends feel guilty, naturally, but Weems was a legal adult and theoretically didn't require a babysitter or chaperone.  Karen Foss's "cold" response to the Weems tragedy may seem harsh, but she knows that if Weems and his friends had been sober the night of his 21st birthday, there's a good chance he wouldn't have met his demise that night.

kp.ryan
kp.ryan

@vanvelkinburgh 

It is interesting that the idea of taking another's life is something that in no way repels you, but rather you cavalierly offer yourself up to do the deed.  You must have spent a great deal of time thinking about the psychological ramifications you would inevitably face after killing.  That you are still eager makes me think it is likely you've already killed.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal You're right.

But, the reason it was printed is because of the relations between the elitest who have grown into positions of power, or rather, gate-keeper positions, and the natural, and now unrestrained, drive to write about themselves.

The white guilt comes through in the framework of the feature.

But, you are right about the survivor's guilt. True, true.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal You're right. He deserved it.

"Damned white fools."

"(D)oesn't belong."

Good thing they don't say that about black people anymore. Well, they might out in Crawford County...

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Oh come on, @icstrategy... 

How often do you hear on the news about the white guy who viciously murdered the black guy? Not often. Why? BECAUSE IT'S NOT NEWS!

The real news story is when the "bad black man" leaves the ghetto and kills the "innocent, good white man." Its the same way that the media will aggressive cover the disappearance of a white woman, but only show half the interest (if that...) regarding the disappearance of a black woman (reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_white_woman_syndrome)

For you to call @Poetry82 a racist and a bigot for claiming that her father's crime was accidental is completely out of line. You're speaking in general terms when discussing "white and black" cases. @Poetry82 is only speaking about HER FATHER'S case. I'm sure she has a complete understanding of the in's and out's of the case unlike many of us who just read the article. It'd be more self-serving for you to ask a question to her regarding her viewpoint so you can understand it better, rather than just throwing out your embarrassingly crafted rant.

POETRY82
POETRY82

@GetReal That's the problem, the truth of the matter is that this man came into my father's neighborhood with his friend not only trying to sexually assault my uncle and rob him. But because he was a "White" well known catholic priest son, they refuse to make that a beneficial factor to my father's case. He was a young black man without any priors assisting his brother while a man tried to to sexually assault and rob him. The justice has already been paid that's what this story is about. Freeing my Father.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal I do not subscribe to the belief that white people should not go into certain areas because they are white; although, many of my black neighbors disagree. Perhaps I will end up shot or beaten to death sometime because of my defiance to this unwritten rule, but in the meantime, when I go to the convenience store late at night near my home, and I see all the black people intimidating the whites I will still defend my place in line. Go ahead, shoot me. I have no white guilt, because I never had white priviledge.

I read no evidence that anyone was being sexually assaulted. I read no evidence that the white kid stole the gold necklace. I read no evidence that the black youths chased after Washington and beat him to death. They chased the white guy; because he was white. The most stunning line in the feature was from Poetry, hoping the parents of the young man who was beaten, about the head and face, until dead, would, "forgive their son for bringing everything upon himself."

trenchantone
trenchantone

@warlordsworld Because whatever out-of-town conglomerate that Ray Hartman sold the paper to hired this guy to run it who went to parties with some of the elitest folks who knew the guy who got beat to death, and they all feel really bad now, because they have white guilt. They have it so bad, that they feel responsible for a man being in prison who was involved in a murder, because they know the murdered person was at fault, or they were, or society, or the system, but not the guy in prison.

GetReal
GetReal

@trenchantone @GetReal Yeah, I don't see this story being rehashed in the St. Louis American. Again, I don't get why the RFT is running this article in December 2012. It's like the article can't decide whether it's news (which it isn't...because what's new about it?) or some kind of "poignant feature" that taps the memories of the ex-party kids, many of whom have some direct connections to RFT staff.  The most compelling piece of information in the article, IMHO, is that a prison inmate studied to become a paralegal while in prison. Now there's a real story worth exploring. 

muchotrutho
muchotrutho

No.  Your father and uncle decided to resolve their problem with him by killing him.  If what you say is true then they should've called the police and he would be the one in jail, not your father.  If they were in danger they probably could've beat him up a too but he didn't have a weapon and was outnumbered.  He's dead.  Your father's alive and in jail.  Be thankful your father's not dead too.  This story is a poignant example of how important good decision making is.  Bad decisions can be fatal or put you in jail for a long time.  A dumb white kid is dead and a murderer is in prison.  Justice has been done.

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

I understand that you're obviously looking for support for your father, but I think its really tactless of you to seemingly agree and condone GetReal to call the person your father murdered a "stupid white pseudo-intellectual stoner."

sickoflosers
sickoflosers

@trenchantone @warlordsworld Well, Suzy Rust is a spoiled rich bitch who plays with people like toys and then cuts them off when she's tired of them, so I can't imagine she has too much guilt about this whole thing, or anything else for that matter.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal @trenchantone This is the first RFT I picked up in years, in more than a decade I bet. I couldn't even watch Donnybrook for a year after Hartman sold it and it went spiraling down. But I suppose I will read it again, if only for the same reason I watch Meet the Press; to count the "I"s.

Meanwhile, f'n crazy white people shooting up a school in Conneticut. I assume the shooter was white, that is.

GetReal
GetReal

@trenchantone @GetReal RFT had a lapse of news judgment this week....oh, I guess the guy who normally handles the news beat was on vacation....

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal @trenchantone ...some kind of "poignant feature" that taps the memories of the ex-party kids, many of whom have some direct connections to RFT staff...

THERE'S a story--a story about the story, and WHO wrote it HOW they got their jobs  and WHAT connections they had, and WHY it was printed. A good piece for The SLJR, but it's dead, right? Or, The  St. Louis American. I would write that one, but I'm white ;) so I know even less than a Canadian :P

GetReal
GetReal

@trenchantone No, what I'm saying is that in this particular case, the fact that this particular inmate pursued paralegal studies, is an interesting story. But RFT isn't covering that. Instead, RFT is indulging in hazy post-adolescent Forest Park memories of weed, Quaalude, and LSD parties...oh yeah, and heavy drinking, of course....

trenchantone
trenchantone

@GetReal @trenchantone People who work for the media report on what interests them these days. Watch David Gregory and count the "I"s. They are interested in themselves, naturally; that's just evolutionary biology at work.

That's why a purse-snatching, no matter race, in the CWE is covered ad naseum while the women found in trash bins on the Southside, no matter race, are a mere mention with no follow-up. The people making the decisions live in the central corridor.

Before you get too excited about a prisoner becoming a paralegal, you might want to check some stats, though.

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

That's actually a lie, Canadian's aren't nice. They just compare us to Americans on an international level so we look like ANGELS.

I'm not even going to bother with critiquing that last sentence. You're already making yourself sound dumb as fuck.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@lindsay.grum "may have"

And it "may have" been an attempt to protect himself from the men who were chasing him.

trenchantone
trenchantone

@lindsay.grum Oops, you lost your Canadian Nice there. Watch it. But if you're feeling superior to me, you need to use that superior education and think harder.

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Did you read the article?  The judge who reviewed the case said, "Weems may have contributed to the escalation of the violence by attacking Clemmons with a wooden board."

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Hahahaha, Canadian, you twat. And from that comment it's become painfully clear that trying to impress intellectually sound arguments on you daft, redneck Americans is a fruitless effort. You wonder why your country's going to shit... Start with the education system...that's clearly problem #1.

God, it's like banging my head on a fucking wall.

trenchantone
trenchantone

And you seem to be from the UK anyway...so, really, what do you know about anything?

trenchantone
trenchantone

@lindsay.grum The article could be better reported, and I could go back and look at it, but the impression I was left with is that he was not killed with one blow. The impression I was left with was that he was running away and chased by more than one man. Perhaps, if there ever was a board, he was attempting to save his own life. He failed at that.

More than one blow; chased.

And I will continue to go anywhere I want in this city, even if I am white, as I posted below. If they kill me, maybe it will be because I was "bringing everything upon" myself, right?

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Right. And that "may have" doesn't deserve some review? The fact that the victim "may have" been on LSD that night--a drug that can make you do things outside the norm, the fact that Clemmons friend "may have" stomped on Weem's head causing further injury, the fact that Weems "may have" provoked the situation that night by being sexually aggressive or robbing a young, black man in a neighbourhood known to be rough...none of these particulars warrant any sort of review? None of them came into play in the trial? This is proof that the defence attourney didn't do his job, because as a layman, even I can see that these are inconsistencies that lead to an aquittal, a hung jury or a lesser charge.

A first degree murder sentence essentially means a killing which is deliberate and premeditated. This murder was neither of those things.

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Did you read the article?  The judge who reviewed the case said, "Weems may have contributed to the escalation of the violence by attacking Clemmons with a wooden board."

lindsay.grum
lindsay.grum

Yes, but accidentally killing someone means that Clemmons should have been charged second degree murder or manslaughter.

How can you not see the judgement was unfair? Even, Bright, the judge who looked over the case states "The conviction for capital murder and consequent life sentence...imposed in this case may amount to a great injustice. Clemmons had some justification for his aggression against Weems." In addition to that, the fact that he faced a bias, all white juror didn't help his case either.

This article is littered with facts that offer counter arguements and facts that should leave any intelligent human scratching their head and thinking, "hmmm, this doesn't seem right."

It would take a very ignorant person (i.e. YOU) to completely disregard these key pieces of information.

Also, the whole "take it up with the jurors" just makes you look like you're reaching. Be informed. Northwestern University did a study a few years back that suggests 1 in 8 jury decisions are wrong. You think some arbitrarily chosen people are really the be-all-end-all of some man's life? You're a joke.

muchotrutho
muchotrutho

Really?  Accidently killing is still murder.  Apparently 12 people and a judge disagree with your account.  Your father had his day and I for one find nothing in this story or your account that leads me to believe the judgement against him was unfair.  Take it up with the jurors.

POETRY82
POETRY82

@muchotrutho That let me know how ignorant you are to this case. For one the man was accidentally killed not on purpose. And for two my father turned himself in to the police. They didn't know he was dead. But be ignorant it's okay it's expected. Your just like the rest of them look past the fact that the man tried to rob my uncle with his weapon and the men of the neighborhood acted out in self defense against him and his friend. By any means your just proving my point.

 
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