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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