That's the title of a four-article series this week in the Guardian. It's written by Ed Pilkington, reporting from Potosi, Missouri on a long-controversial death penalty case. Most of the articles are accompanied with video by Laurence Topham. It's a must-read series.
The four articles in the order of publication are:
"Death penalty on trial: should Reggie Clemons live or die? Reggie Clemons has spent 19 years on death row. Next month his case will be reviewed for one last time in a hearing that cuts to heart of the debate about capital punishment in America."
Reggie Clemons has one last chance to save his life. After 19 years on death row in Missouri for the murder of two young women, he has been granted a final opportunity to persuade a judge that he should be spared execution by lethal injection.
Next month, Clemons will be brought before a court presided over by a "special master", who will review the case one last time. The hearing will be unprecedented in its remit, but at its core will be a simple issue: should Reggie Clemons live or die?
That question is as deadly serious as it sounds. One of Clemons's three co-defendants has already been executed, and Clemons himself came within 12 days of being put to death in 2009.
The Reggie Clemons case has been a cause of legal dispute for the past two decades. Prosecutors alleged that he and his co-defendants brutally cut short the lives of Julie and Robin Kerry, sisters who had just started college and had their whole adult lives ahead of them.
Julie Kerry was 20 when she died, studying English literature at college. She devoured all sorts of poetry and ballads, from Chaucer to Sinead O'Connor. She and McClain volunteered for numerous causes together, working with groups on HIV and Aids and joining charity walks for the homeless.
Robin was equally passionate about social justice. The Christmas before they died, the sisters were so moved by a feature in the St Louis-Post Dispatch about needy families in the city that they announced they were each going to help out. In a matter of days they raised $600 and delivered several car loads of food and Christmas gifts to two of the families.
If Julie was a poet, Robin, a year younger, was a fighter. In her book A Rip In Heaven: a Memoir of Murder, Jeanine Cummins, a cousin of the sisters, recounts the story of how Robin dealt with a bully at her school who was picking on another pupil. "She simply could not stand by while this jerk tormented the little guy day after day. She slammed her locker, marched over to the bully, and punched him in the jaw."
Was Reggie Clemons' confession beaten out of him? We look at the discrepancies thrown up during the course of the prosecution.
Reggie Clemons knows what it's like to prepare for imminent death. In 2008, he came within 12 days of execution by lethal injection. In May that year he was issued with a death warrant and for the next 18 days he sat and waited in his prison cell, a short dead-man-walking distance from the death chamber. It was, he says, "a real strange time."
"Each day was real slow. You're paying attention to each and every little detail – every crack on the floor, how your shoe strings are laying that day – because these might be the very last moments of your life."
Earlier coverage of Reggie Clemons' case begins at the link