There was that thing about Todd Weems. He and his friends would be partying and having a good time, and then someone would look up and Todd had disappeared.
"He was outgoing, carefree, fun, exasperating," says Earl Mulley, known to friends as Smitty, who developed a close friendship with Weems when his family joined University City's Trinity Presbyterian Church, led by Todd's father, the Reverend Don Weems. "But he really had a serious side. And the serious side didn't get seen unless you spent a lot of time with him. I just loved the guy to death."
Thirty years have passed, but Mulley will never forget August 13, 1982, the night Todd Weems, home for the summer before his junior year at Southwestern College in Memphis, celebrated his 21st birthday in Forest Park.
Doubtless, the others remember that night, too.
There was Dave Durham, a U. City grad and close friend of Weems who organized the party; Gabe Katz, a U. City boy who not long afterward split for Brooklyn with his metal band Blind Idiot God. And a cohort who'd graduated from the storied John Burroughs prep in Ladue: The Taylors — twenty-year-old John and his sister Kate, twenty-two. Scott Lockwood, nineteen, son of KSDK-TV (Channel 5) anchorwoman Karen Foss. And big Dave Winkelmeyer, a rocker who eventually found a niche as lead singer for Rugburn, a long-time fixture on the local club scene.
For August, the weather was unseasonably cool. The afternoon temperature had failed to reach 80 degrees, and as midnight passed, the mercury fell through the 60s.
When Weems had a lot to drink, he would, as Earl Mulley put it, "go into his own little world." Given that the pastor's son had kicked off the day with a bottle of Champagne a well-wisher had left on his doorstep, by the time Mulley met up with everyone in Forest Park, he knew it wouldn't be long before his friend tuned out. Mulley decided to call it a night before the clock struck twelve. No big deal — he'd invited Weems and Durham over to his place the following day for a birthday dinner. He said his goodbyes at the bridge over the lily pond east of Union Boulevard.
Sometime after twelve o'clock the remains of the party adjourned to Lockwood's house on Hortense Place, an exclusive block between Euclid Avenue and Kingshighway in the Central West End, lined with turn-of-the-century mansions. Suzy Rust, a recent Burroughs grad from Webster Groves, headed home with her boyfriend, but Lockwood, Durham, Winkelmeyer, Katz and the Taylors partied on. It was still summer, plenty of Busch yet to be drunk.
And then Weems did that thing again. At about 2 a.m., the guest of honor silently walked away from the Foss residence, headed east toward Euclid.
"Todd, don't go too far," Kate Taylor, Scott Lockwood's girlfriend at the time, would remember calling after Weems. Dave Durham recalled that Todd "sort of waved us goodbye."
Just past 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, 1982, a janitor at Gene Lynn's Cocktail Lounge on the corner of Maryland and Whittier — about a mile and a half east of the Foss home — noticed a man sleeping in the weeds of the overgrown yard adjacent to the bar. As he approached, he saw a young white male, fully clothed, lying face up. Blood oozed from his nose and mouth.
The janitor flagged down a passing patrol car.
As police canvassed the area, a homicide detective interviewed a desk clerk at the Windsor, a transient hotel on Lindell Boulevard a block from where the body was found. The clerk pointed to a black man sitting in the lobby who had been beaten up the previous night.
Lindsey Washington, age 30, an unemployed military vet from Memphis, explained to the detective that he got drunk the night before, went looking for a prostitute with a friend whose name he couldn't remember, got lost and was robbed of $20 by three black youths. Then at the corner of Maryland and Newstead, he met "an unknown white guy" who bummed a cigarette.
"[T]hey began to walk together east on Maryland conversing," the investigative report reads, "when at about 4470 Maryland, five negro male subjects, one armed with a long shiny colored pipe, for no reason began to jump on both of them....
"He was able to get away.... [He] stated that the last time he saw the white guy, he was running east on Maryland and a couple of subjects were chasing him."
Detectives took Washington to the medical examiner's office, where he identified the body of Todd Weems. From there they drove him to the crime scene, where he insisted again that he and Weems had been jumped by unknown assailants. The officers dropped him off at the hotel "pending further investigation," and seized the bloodstained clothing he had in his room.
An officer interviewed a resident of the 4300 block of Maryland who said he and a neighbor had been outside their apartment sometime after 1:30 a.m. when they saw two men, whom they'd later identify from photos as Washington and Weems, arguing at the Newstead intersection. The witness said the argument lasted five minutes, at which time the pair walked east on Maryland and stopped in front of his house. "[Washington] ascended the steps and asked them to 'beat this guy up for me, will you beat this guy up for me?'" referring to the white man. Police also rang the doorbell of a house on the 4200 block of Maryland, where an elderly minister told them he'd looked out his window around that same time and saw a black man strike a white man with a pipe.
As police learned more about Washington, they found that he'd spent two stretches over the past year confined at the VA's Jefferson Barracks facility, where records indicated he "has a long history of alcohol dependance [sic], paranoia, schizophrenia and suffers from auditory hallucinations."
Though he insisted that both he and Weems had been attacked, under questioning he variously claimed his attackers were black, white and his friends.
On Sunday, August 15, 1982, police arrested Lindsey Washington on suspicion of murder.
Then the case took a new turn. The following afternoon a confidential informant told detectives that a resident of the 4200 block of Maryland, Stanley Barnes, claimed he'd been followed home from work on the night of August 13 by a black man and a white man who'd made "sexual gestures" toward him, then tried to rob him. Barnes, along with his half-brother and several friends, had "joined in beating up" the pair.
The owner of the City Cousin restaurant at Lindell and Euclid, where Barnes worked as a kitchen helper, provided corroboration, telling police that when Barnes came to work on August 14, he'd told her he'd been confronted the night before by two men, one black, the other white. The men "had made some type of sexual gesture" to him and followed him home, whereupon Barnes and others administered "a good whipping."
Detectives apprehended Barnes at the restaurant. Under questioning he supplied the names of four fellow assailants: his half-brother Eric Clemmons, age twenty; a neighbor on Maryland, sixteen-year old Keith Fair; nineteen-year-old Antonio Hawkins, who lived with the Fair family; and twenty-year-old Gerald Williams.
By nine o'clock that night, all five were in custody and telling various versions of the story the schizophrenic Lindsey Washington had supplied as an alibi: They'd been the ones who had attacked him and Todd Weems.
When a reporter pitched Riverfront Times a story last year about a St. Louis man's plea for clemency on his 30-year-old capital-murder conviction, my first inclination as editor was to turn him down. Stories like this too often veer from news to advocacy; it's not my brand of journalism.
A few days later, though, I took a closer look at the materials he'd sent me.
The murder victim's name: Todd Weems.
I hadn't known Todd Weems, though I'd gone to school with him at University City High. I'd first learned about his death only a few years earlier, from Suzy Rust, a woman I'd talked into contributing stories to the paper.
She said Weems was part of a group of U. City kids she hung out with, that he was murdered in 1982 after celebrating his 21st birthday with her and a dozen other friends in Forest Park. She told me the party had moved to the home of one of the kids, the son of KSDK anchor Karen Foss, and that not long afterward, Weems — drunk, stoned and tripping on LSD — had wandered off down the alley, away from Foss' house. He turned up dead the next morning.
The reporter had no information about any LSD, nor about Karen Foss, who read the lead-in to Channel 5's coverage of the killing without disclosing that the victim had disappeared from her home.
Clearly, there was more to the story. I told the writer to dig up everything he could.
Eric Clemmons was the first to go to trial, in the summer of 1983, on a charge of capital murder. Nancy Wagoner, a long-time parishioner at Trinity Presbyterian and a close family friend of the Weemses, was in attendance.
Seated in the kitchen of her U. City home, Wagoner — the neighbor who'd left the Champagne on Weems' doorstep the morning he was killed — says the murder "destroyed everyone." Don and Ann Weems were vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, and police had to summon Todd's younger brother, David, to the morgue to identify the body.
"We had a hard time grasping how it could happen to this family, to the pastor," says Wagoner.
Throughout the four-day trial, the courtroom gallery was divided, with Clemmons' family and friends on one side of the aisle, Weems' contingent on the other. "It was almost like the bride's side and the groom's side," Wagoner recalls.
Weems' friends testified. Though they stressed their friend's good character, prosecutor John Bauer compelled them to elaborate on Weems' drinking, drug use and erratic behavior. They weren't alarmed when Todd wandered away. But they began to worry, and Durham, Katz and John Taylor piled into Winkelmeyer's Chevy Suburban to search for him, to no avail.
They gave up and went home: He'd pulled this stunt before, sometimes passing out on neighbors' lawns. He'd always turned up safe.
Winkelmeyer said Weems had smoked pot that night. Durham had told police that Weems had reported drinking three ales earlier in the day, plus the Champagne. "Durham stated that the victim purchased a case of 9-0-5 beer and drank several of those and then he started drinking some V.O. that he (Durham) had, further stating that the victim was pretty 'wiped out,'" the investigative report reads. Medical examiner Mary Case testified that at the time of death, Weems' blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit. (The toxicology report did not include a test for LSD.)
Speaking by phone from his home in San Angelo, Texas, where he works as a wine retailer, Earl Mulley says, "That was one of my biggest lessons of this whole experience: The fact that what I said in that police report" — that Weems "had used marijuana and other drugs" — "ended up in the defense counsel's hands. Being that I'd lost one of my best friends, I was opening up to the police, hoping to help them in any manner I can, and then all of a sudden some of the things I said were being used to try to slander him."
Mulley finds it hard to believe Weems' assailants weren't familiar with Lindsey Washington. "I lived in that area. I knew who the guy was. He was always walking. I had found out that he lived in [the Windsor Hotel], and it just made sense — it clicked to me: This is what Todd was doing; he was helping this guy find his way home. Or just walking with him going home, just talking to the guy."
RFT attempted without success to reach Dave Durham, Dave Winkelmeyer and Scott Lockwood to comment for this story.
Eric Clemmons argued that he acted in self-defense. Most damaging to his case were his own friends.
Greg and Keith Fair and Antonio Hawkins testified that although the group had chased and beaten Weems, it was only Clemmons who'd swung the pipe. Clemmons, they alleged, hit Weems more than twice, couldn't be restrained and, afterward, laughed that he may have killed the young man.
Called to the stand as the sole defense witness, Clemmons insisted his friends lied to protect themselves. (Murder and assault charges had been dropped against Keith Fair and Antonio Hawkins.) He told the jury the group had found his brother struggling with Lindsey Washington and that after knocking Washington to the ground they'd spotted Weems. "'That other guy's with him — he robbed me too,'" Clemmons said Barnes told him. They chased Weems to the abandoned lot.
"Where is my brother's gold chain?" Clemmons shouted. "He swung a board at me. I scooted back on the ground. He stepped toward me. I picked up the pipe and swung it and hit him in the back part of the head. I swung at him again. By that time, this guy hit the ground."
Defense attorney Jack Walsh maintained that the eyewitness testimony was "shot full" of inconsistencies. "That's why Eric Clemmons called them liars," Walsh declared. "Because that's what they are."
Added Walsh: "Even if you believe all of the [state's] evidence, you have a bunch of people running amok under sudden provocation, under sudden passion."
Bauer countered that Clemmons was the liar, and that as he pursued Weems he'd "reflected coolly" on killing him. "When he had Weems on the ground, Eric Clemmons told the others to stand back because he knew what he wanted to do, and that was to kill Todd Weems," Bauer contended, deeming the slaying "a classic case of capital murder."
Bauer, now in private practice, declined comment for this story. Dee Joyce-Hayes, who held the elected post of St. Louis Circuit Attorney from 1992 to 2000, was an assistant in the prosecutor's office in 1982. "Had it come before me, I probably would have charged murder-second," Joyce-Hayes, now general counsel for the bistate transit agency Metro, tells RFT. "Clemmons was guilty, there's no doubt about that. It's just that the circumstances led me to believe it was second-degree murder."
Nevertheless, after deliberating for four and a half hours, the jury found Clemmons guilty.
"We have profound sympathy for the family and for the young man," Reverend Weems told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We know they are feeling deep pain." But Weems bridled at the notion that his son had participated in a robbery. "I don't believe it's the truth and nobody that knows [Todd] believes it's the truth.... He practiced what I preach."
Nancy Wagoner still recalls the moment the verdict was read. "There was no joy, we didn't clap or cheer, because there was another life lost," Wagoner says. But, she adds, "The fact that they beat him to death and then left him — we felt justified. We had hoped this was behind us, that the conviction would bring closure."
In imposing a life sentence, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jack L. Koehr stipulated that Clemmons serve a minimum of 50 years before he'd be eligible for parole. Clemmons was sentenced to ten years, to be served concurrently, for assaulting Washington.
A year later at Stanley Barnes' trial, the Fair brothers and Antonio Hawkins reprised their roles as star witnesses for the prosecution. Unlike his half-brother, Barnes had a private attorney, Doris Black, to represent him. Black pointed out that the Fairs' father, Joseph Edward Fair, was a deputy sheriff, and that another member of the group that night, Dewayne Fair, had since become a deputy sheriff. While cross-examining the latter, she asked rhetorically, "Isn't it a fact, Mr. Fair, that none of you got arrested and charged because you all stuck together with your stories?"
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."
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.
"We spent time every day together on Maryland," recalls Clemmons, who by the early 1980s had moved with his mother to the municipality of Pine Lawn in north county while his half-brother Stanley remained in the city, in the house their great-grandfather owned and where Clemmons had grown up. Clemmons remembers how, for privacy, he and his friends would "unhook one of the streetlights and it would darken half the block."
On the night of August 13, Clemmons was leaning against his Buick LeSabre on the southwest corner of Whittier at Maryland, listening to R&B playing on the stereo. With him were the Fair brothers — Greg, Dewayne, Darrell and Keith — whose father was a deputy sheriff, and who lived with their mother right across Maryland from Clemmons' great-grandfather. Antonio Hawkins, who lived with the Fairs, was there, too, plus Gerald Williams and Darryl Wiley. Some of the guys had just gotten off from a shift at Gene Lynn's, others had seen the Gap Band downtown at Kiel Auditorium. Clemmons, who'd dropped out of Vashon High School, was unemployed.
His memory of the night of the murder is hazy. "We're sitting there. Somebody says, 'Stanley's hollering he's being robbed!' Everybody got to running down there." He told police that the friends found Barnes fighting with Washington, whom they beat until he fled. They knocked down and beat Weems on Maryland, then chased him across Whittier into the lot behind Gene Lynn's. That's where Clemmons says he picked up a pipe and hit Weems twice in the head. He claimed he hadn't known Weems had died. And though his statement at the time mentioned nothing about it, he maintained at trial (and has continued to insist) that he picked up the pipe in self-defense after Weems swung a board at him.
The entire episode — racing down Maryland, pummeling Washington, the lethal beating of Todd Weems, began and ended in a matter of two minutes.
"In that neighborhood, you had to take people at face value," Clemmons says. "Most white [people] out at that time of night — they're hustlers or looking to buy drugs. My little brother was being robbed. We saw it as a threat. Todd Weems made a mistake in causing the problem, but I compounded it by overreacting.
"The Fairs were the people I was closest to in the world," he adds bitterly. "I considered myself part of the Fair family. Greg put me away. That's how I feel about it. I would like to ask them, 'Why did you have to embellish the truth?'"
Clemmons' mother, Carole Blocker, now lives in Black Jack, having retired after a career as a bookkeeper for a tool company. "We didn't come from a bad background," Blocker says. "My grandparents were ministers. Eric and Stanley were good boys. This one incident ruined their lives — it's almost the same as if Eric died.
"The Weemses are still deeply hurt," she goes on. "I do feel for them. But they have to search their hearts and ask: 'Why was my son in that area and with [Lindsey Washington]?' This was a manslaughter case. Eric's lawyer was drunk and didn't do anything for him."
Transported to the maximum-security Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City at age 21, Clemmons was unprepared for prison. "I was very green," he says now. "I was very friendly. You cannot be friendly without suffering some kind of consequences."
For Clemmons the consequences took the form of a cellmate, Henry Johnson, who Clemmons says made persistent sexual advances, which he violently rebuffed. Ultimately prison officials moved Clemmons to another cell.
Not long afterward, on August 7, 1985, Johnson was stabbed outside a housing unit. The scene was chaotic and crowded, but a guard ID'ed Clemmons as the assailant, and when Johnson died of his wounds, Clemmons found himself on trial for murder again. Three fellow inmates testified on his behalf, but the guard's version of events swayed the jury. In 1987 Clemmons was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
As in the Weems case, he maintained his innocence. This time, however, he had material evidence, in the form of a memo that had been withheld at trial, in which another guard noted that an inmate who'd witnessed the killing had fingered someone else for the crime. With the assistance of a fellow Death Row inmate (Doyle Williams, who was executed in 1996), Clemmons filed appeal after appeal, before engaging the help of two attorneys from Kansas City, Cheryl Pilate and Charlie Rogers.
In 1997 Rogers persuaded a panel of three federal judges to overturn Clemmons' conviction.
Undaunted, then-Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon retried Clemmons in 2000. A jury acquitted him after three hours of deliberation.
"He basically had written Cheryl with a desperate plea for help," recounts Rogers, reached by phone in Kansas City, now with Wyrsch Hobbs & Mirakian. "It was poorly done by his defense the first time. Doing a decent investigation made a big difference."
Interviewed after his acquittal for an article in the Kansas City Star, Clemmons brought up the Weems case.
"I can't just sit back," he said. "I've got to let it be known I want to be free."
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.
"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.)
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 blows...to 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.
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.
"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."
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."
As conflicted as she feels about the events of Friday the 13th of August, 1982, Suzy Rust is no longer ambivalent about speaking up.
"I have (slowly and painfully) realized it is the right thing to do. My eyes are open to the fact that I'm going to be unpopular with former friends. I can live with that easier than I could live with staying quiet."
She remembers clearly, she emphasizes, that Todd was on LSD: a friend's gift, "a birthday hit" of acid, she says.
Even when he wasn't drunk or high, she writes, he didn't have a sense of danger. "There was an innocence about him. He was lanky — not overpowering, but he could get right up in anyone's face, and 'motherfucker' was one of his favorite words.
"We didn't protect the least-protected member of our tribe."
Earl Mulley, who says he wonders to this day how Todd would have turned out had his life not been cut short by violence, expressed surprise upon learning that Eric Clemmons is still in prison.
"It did not cross my mind — I expected him to be out," Mulley says. "It isn't something that's going to keep me from sleeping. I know there's a whole group of people that are part of his life that are affected by it, but I don't have an opinion. If he has done his time and he fixed the bill, I don't have any problem with him coming out. But it ain't gonna be something I'm gonna think about."
Unless noted, facts and witness statements cited in this story are drawn from court documents, including the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's investigative report concerning the murder of Todd Weems.
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