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 to Clemmons' third contention, medical examiner Mary Case testified during his trial that Weems likely was killed by "an object such as [the] pipe that [probably] caused the injuries [to his face]." At Stanley Barnes' trial the following year, however, Case asserted that "the the scalp area were not made by the same linear instrument that caused the injuries [to Weems' face]," and that the blows to the face alone wouldn't have killed him. Clemmons argued that if Case's testimony at his brother's trial represented her actual finding, then at his own trial the state had wrongfully withheld her true opinion.

Consenting to RFT's request that she review her original postmortem, Case says in retrospect, "I don't stand by that [testimony] today. I can see that you'd interpret two different things being said." It's impossible for her to say how many people hit Weems in the head, Case explains, or attribute death to a particular blow. "I don't know who caused the blows which caused death," she adds. "But I do know if you're beating on somebody's head with a pipe, you might cause them to die."

In 1999 the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed Clemmons' arguments. Though the three-judge panel upheld a lower court's refusal to grant a writ of habeas corpus, Judge Myron H. Bright penned a scathing indictment of the original trial.

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.

Judge Koehr, Bright asserted, erred in failing to instruct the jury on the lawful use of deadly force in self-defense, and "in each trial, [Mary Case] gave the impression that the defendant" — first Clemmons, then Barnes — "struck the fatal blows."

Writes Bright:"...[T]his court lacks the power to grant Petitioner relief due to the restrictions placed on federal habeas corpus review of state court convictions.

"I concur with reluctance, however. 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. He had reason to believe Weems had just robbed his brother and stolen a gold chain. Weems may have contributed to the escalation of the violence by attacking Clemmons with a wooden board.

"The state could have charged Clemmons with second-degree murder or even manslaughter on the facts. Nevertheless, an aggressive prosecutor brought capital murder charges, with the result that Clemmons, not even twenty-one years old at the time and having no prior criminal record, received a life sentence."

Bright concluded by urging "the Governor of Missouri to consider a grant of executive clemency."

Bright made those comments in mid-1999. On October 17, 2000, however, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat.

Reached by phone, Bright, a Lyndon Johnson appointee who at age 93 is the nation's oldest still-serving "senior status" federal judge, says he stands by his opinion.

If they knew he was drunk, tripping — and, as Winkelmeyer later told police, prone to saying "bizarre" things — why did the partiers at Scott Lockwood's house let Weems take off the wrong way down Hortense Place?

Gabe Katz, reached by phone, says, "Todd was being in a kind of aggressive mood that night. It wasn't like, 'I'm going to go out and beat somebody.' It just seemed like something was bothering him."

Says Suzy: "I think it took a while for the dime to drop" for her friends. None of the others was tripping, but it was late and they were all at various stages of intoxication. Besides, Todd was known for this.

OK, but why, once they piled into Winkelmeyer's Suburban and began searching, did they avoid heading in the direction they'd last seen him walking: toward the very neighborhoods where he was most likely to run into trouble?

Dave Durham told police they'd driven south and then west, figuring Weems would gravitate toward home: "Durham stated that they did not go east or north because they did not think he would go in those directions because the neighborhoods, after a couple of blocks[,] were bad."

Suzy: "We thought we were so smart and witty. We lived in Partyville."

That might explain the fact that not once — not amid the grief that followed the murder, nor over the decades, never can she recall her friends talking about what went wrong that night. No shared guilt about not having done more to stop him. No finger pointing as to why no one had.

At least none that was spoken.

"Selfishness, mixed with shame," Suzy speculates.

"I do believe that because you came from a 'good' family, one full of love and respect and caring," she writes in an e-mail, "it's almost impossible for you to understand what it's like to come from a dysfunctional family, one in which inattention, alcoholic neglect, belittling, berating or beating made the material opportunities thrown at some of us hard to grasp. Most of my friends in that U. City group came from that kind of off-kilter, alienating place. It's hard to even know what the right thing to do is when that's your milieu. But I think on some level we all knew that we were to blame for Todd's death.

« Previous Page
Next Page »