Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Man freed three decades after fatal fire

Clements pleads guilty to one count, maintains innocence.

Mark Clements’ freedom didn’t come easy.

He already served nearly 30 years in prison for four murders he insists he didn’t commit. On Tuesday, he said he made another sacrifice for a chance to walk out of his cell and into the arms of his only daughter.

“I had no choice but to take this. Otherwise, I would have remained in prison the rest of my life,” Clements, 45, said upon his release from the Pontiac Correctional Center after pleading guilty to one count of first-degree murder.

“I have a 28-year-old daughter [Tameka Lee]. She was only 45 days old when they arrested me. Tonight, I’m going to rekindle the relationship with my daughter and just enjoy the air.”

Clements’ attorneys wanted a new trial for their client, who had been serving a life sentence for killing the victims in a South Side fire.

But Clements decided to accept the deal prosecutors offered and pleaded guilty to the murder of Robert T. Watson — a victim in the blaze. In doing so, Clements was able to secure his release. All others charges related to the June 1981 crime were dropped.

“Ideally it wasn’t the perfect proposal. It’s not the result he would have wanted. He would have liked to have been completely exonerated, but he’s realistic,” Clements’ lawyer Timothy Nelsen said. “He knew the hurdle to get a post-conviction appeal was very high and he wanted to be able to have a life.”

Clements, who has an IQ of just 59, helped others collect bottles and fill them with gasoline, then brought the bottles upstairs to a two-story building at 66th and Wentworth prior to the arson, prosecutors said.

According to court papers, Clements, 16 at the time, then went outside to serve as a lookout while two others set the fire.

Clements said he was forced to confess by the same police officers who later worked under disgraced former Detective Cmdr. Jon Burge.

He hopes to work with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and has also called the Rev. Jesse Jackson to assist him in finding a job.

“I was his paperboy for about a year. Now I need his help,” Clements said.


No comments: