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.

"We were like one big happy amoeba and Todd's death killed us all. Too much ugliness for people in their early twenties to process healthily. PSTD wasn't invented then, but we all suffered from it. I've never cried so much in my life."

Most of those who were with Weems the night he died did not respond to RFT's requests for comment. One, who demanded not to be named, says, "I just got off the phone with friends and they're really upset" that RFT is revisiting the story.

"I hope that bastard dies in prison."

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.

John Taylor replied to voicemail and e-mail interview requests, writing, "While I certainly appreciate your interest in Todd's life, I have concerns about the editorial angle of any story written about him and its potential to unintentionally hurt his family.... I have decided, after much deliberation, not to participate."

As diversely as the races inhabited University City, and as readily as they mixed, it wasn't as if St. Louis' age-old torment over color dissolved at our border. The reality was that going to a school with roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites meant members of each race were conscious of the other's differences. There were more interracial friendships, true, but also sharp awareness of boundaries.

The mother of one of my close high school friends (who was studying law and went on to serve as a public defender and, later, a top county prosecutor) told me recently that when she offered to send my friend to a private high school he declined, saying that those kids didn't have the common sense to cross the street when a group of unknown black kids approached.

Far from racist, she interpreted his observation as practical.

What was Todd Weems, who knew better, doing on Maryland Avenue?

Ten days after police arrested Eric Clemmons in 1982, Poetry Travis was born. Now 30, the youngest of Clemmons' four children lives in north county and works as an event photographer. Though she has never seen her father outside of prison, she describes him as an involved parent who raised her "from another building."

By the time she reached high school, she found herself asking questions. "You research cases and see the time people have gotten for different scenarios, and it's clear they didn't give my father a fair amount," says Travis, who believes her father acted in self-defense and that Weems bore some responsibility for what happened that night. "At first I was angry. I thought [the Weemses] were racist people. I had to realize they lost a son. And whether he was right or wrong, they loved him. I hope they find it in their heart to forgive my father, forgive whoever else was involved and forgive their son for bringing everything upon himself. We've suffered just as much as they have."

Last year Adam Hirtz and T.R. Bynum of the St. Louis law firm Husch Blackwell LLP filed an application for executive clemency on Clemmons' behalf. In the 120-page document, the attorneys chronicle a childhood blighted by poverty, highlight that Clemmons had no previous criminal history, that the Weems murder was not a one-on-one confrontation, and outline Mary Case's divergent testimonies. But their petition focuses on Clemmons' rehabilitation, the 30 certificates of achievement, the G.E.D and paralegal degree he has earned behind bars.

"Whatever good prison can do for a man," Hirtz and Bynum sum up, "it has done for Eric Clemmons."

The application includes a letter Clemmons wrote to Todd Weems' parents in 2009. "I pray that these words find you with an open heart," it begins. "There is no excuse for what I did.... I am sorry for that and I regret [it].... I have also dreamed about being able to apologize to him and what I would do differently if given the chance. I realize that no language can restore your son to you, but I ask for your mercy, forgiveness and love."

St. Louis attorney Lynette Petruska, who represented Clemmons in the past, says this is his second petition for clemency. The first was submitted to Gov. Bob Holden, who declined to act on the case.

Hirtz and Bynum won't speculate about Clemmons' chances with Gov. Jay Nixon this time around. Offers Randy Angelen, a Hollister-based lawyer lobbying the governor on Clemmons' behalf: "The system has a tendency to perpetuate a mistake. You don't bet the rent money on these cases."

Nixon was Missouri's attorney general when the court threw out Clemmons' conviction in the jailhouse murder of Henry Johnson, and it was Nixon's office that pressed forward with — and lost — the retrial.

And in a cell outside Cape Girardeau, soft-spoken, bespectacled Eric Clemmons awaits a decision.

"I wouldn't still be here if I was white or if Lindsey Washington was the one that died," he says. "I think about [that night] every day. I feel regret for [Weems'] family, as well as for my family.

"There was a debt to be paid. I'm hoping I paid it for me and whoever."

The Weems family declined RFT's requests for comment either directly or through friends. Family friend Nancy Wagoner says, "Ann said she would not want [Clemmons] to get out."

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