Past high school "the party" went on: endless nights, college for some, reunions in town during summer breaks. Part-time jobs, profound conversations, guitar jams, perennially lit Marlboros. Weekend camping trips, east-side beer runs, no shortage of pot, coke when you could afford it, the occasional Quaalude or hallucinogen. At twenty we all had glazed eyes half the time.

Suzy's friends and mine. The orbits intersected only briefly, but "the party" was the same.

Still, there were a few differences. My orbit was more culturally diverse, the U. City populace a laid-back bunch, even in an era known for its permissiveness.

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.

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"What did we all do at that time?" Earl Mulley says, hedging when I ask him to elaborate about Todd's drug use. "You know the time. You know what people were doing back then. You and I knew a lot of the same people. You go to [so-and-so's] house, and you know what was going to happen.

"And the partying [in Forest Park] was no different than that group of people. And you know we're all sane and alive and everything from what we did. But how that cost Todd — for that to be the cause of what happened — that's what I saw the defense was trying to prove."

Understand, it was a different time. The legal age to buy alcohol in Missouri had always been twenty-one, but in Illinois it was nineteen. The stigma attached to drug use didn't extend much beyond heroin. Sex? At U. City any student could earn the state-mandated health-class credit by taking a sex-ed course taught by a gorgeous woman who put up posters with slogans like "Protect Your Lover/Wear a Rubber."

At least, that was how I grew up.


As he'd told the Kansas City Star, Eric Clemmons had not spent his time in prison sitting back.

He petitioned for a new trial, post-conviction relief, recalls of mandates, appeals of denials of appeals and, finally, the convicted man's Hail Mary: a federal writ of habeas corpus.

Chief among Clemmons' contentions:

• That the trial judge failed to give the jury the proper instructions regarding a potential verdict of self-defense, essentially ruling out the lawful use of deadly force;

• That his public defender provided ineffective counsel, refusing to call witnesses and otherwise putting little effort into Clemmons' case;

• That the medical examiner testified at his trial that he had struck the fatal blows but at his brother's trial testified that Barnes had.

To the eyes of most appellate judges, the first assertion, though true, probably had no bearing on the jury verdict. The second pillar of Clemmons' protest rang of boilerplate prison lawyering, and appellate panels likewise dismissed it. Yet in hindsight his contention sheds light on a troubling era of the state's jurisprudence.

In the course of this investigation, RFT came across a 2010 Missouri Law Review paper titled "Missouri's Public Defender Crisis," in which author Sean O'Brien examines how the system has been dogged by "heavy workloads, a lack of resources, and staff turnover for so long that many attorneys do not even know what competent representation is."

O'Brien's Exhibit A: John M. "Jack" Walsh, disbarred in 1988. Walsh was Clemmons' public defender.

Walsh's flameout began a year after he lost Clemmons' case, when a jury sentenced another of his clients, Mose Young, to die for a triple murder that took place during a pawn-shop robbery.

"Although Walsh was an experienced public defender," writes O'Brien, himself a former public defender, "he presented no mitigating evidence on Young's behalf. He had conducted no investigation.... He did virtually nothing to attempt to save his client's life."

Walsh had inherited the case at the last minute, having just completed a major rape trial and another murder trial, back to back. "He had given no thought to the penalty phase of Young's case," O'Brien writes. "His workload did not permit it."

Reached by phone at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, where he now teaches law, O'Brien tells RFT, "Alcohol was Jack Walsh's downfall. But it was parallel to his caseload. He was going from trial to trial to trial not having time to meet with clients. What he was capable of, even drunk, was giving the appearance of representation, because he had courtroom skills. He was flying by the seat of his pants. Someone looking in from the outside would see what superficially appeared to be a fair trial. When the defense lawyer is not functioning properly, that's a significant contributing factor in improper convictions."

Riverfront Times was unable to locate Walsh for comment.

Jay McKay, a public defender in the Middlesex Judicial District in Connecticut, was Walsh's assistant at the time of Clemmons' trial. "It was a really brutal period in the city's criminal-justice system," McKay recalls. "There was an unprecedented volume of cases. It was not something anybody could keep up with — it was just lunacy. A lot of those cases went to Jack Walsh. There was nobody else who would take those cases on."

McKay notes that until a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Batson v. Kentucky, banning the practice, prosecutors routinely stacked juries by excluding blacks simply for their race. The issue was spotlighted in Missouri in June 2000, when Jane Geiler, a former St. Louis prosecutor, stated during a hearing on a stay of execution for Mose Young that prior to Batson, St. Louis prosecutors "always, always" used their strikes to remove black jurors. (Court documents don't identify by race jurors struck from the Clemmons and Barnes trials. Clemmons says his jury included one African American; Stanley Barnes says his had none.)

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44 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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