Death penalty factors can be presented against Clemons

Judge says Clemons failed to present nonviolent evidence

April 24, 2014
Jordan Clemons, charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, arrives at Washington County Courthouse for his preliminary hearing in February 2012. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Washington County judge who will preside over the murder trial of Jordan Clemons ruled Wednesday that if he is convicted, two aggravating factors can be presented to persuade a jury to sentence him to death.

Clemons, 25, who had addresses in Canonsburg and Pittsburgh, is scheduled to stand trial in September on charges he killed former girlfriend Karissa Kunco of Pittsburgh in January 2012 and dumped her body in a wooded area of Mt. Pleasant Township.

The prosecution said it intends to seek the death penalty if Clemons is convicted of first-degree murder. To do so, it must present at least one aggravating factor to the jury at the penalty phase of the trial and the panel has to find it outweighs any mitigating factors.

Clemons’ attorney asked Emery to quash two aggravating factors the prosecution plans to present: that Clemons had a history of felony convictions involving violence, and that Kunco had a protection-from-abuse order against Clemons prohibiting contact at the time of the killing.

Emery found that Clemons failed to present, at an April 3 hearing, any evidence that he has no history of violent convictions. At that hearing, the prosecution presented evidence that Clemons was convicted of two counts of robbery in 2009.

Clemons’ attorney also argued Allegheny County authorities never served Clemons with the PFA order. However, Emery wrote in her opinion that the question centered on whether Clemons had knowledge the PFA order existed.

The prosecution disclosed it has evidence that Clemons was aware of the order and intentionally avoided being served with the paperwork, Emery said, and she ruled that circumstance also can be presented.

Also Wednesday, Emery issued an eight-page opinion explaining her decision not to move the trial to another county.

Clemons’ attorney cited extensive news coverage of the homicide, as well as the formation of a group known as Karissa’s Army, which organizes rallies and sponsors a Facebook page, as reasons he could not get a fair trial here.

“While the publicity generated through web pages and community events may be impassioned and sometimes inflammatory, they are likely attributed to a small group of those in some way connected to the family and friends of the victim,” Emery wrote. “Considering the victim was not a resident of this county, the majority of the group may not be residents/potential jurypersons.”

She said the evidence did not show that potential jury members would be prejudiced against Clemons, but it did give rise to “potential prejudices.”

“This court, though, does not look to potential prejudices. If actual prejudices arise at the empaneling of jurors that render a fair trial impossible, then a change of venue will be proper,” she wrote.

Linda M. Ritzer is the associate editor at the Observer-Reporter. She has been with the O-R since 1986, first as a reporter covering courts, county government and politics, and then as an editor. She has a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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