Murder defendant’s defense revealed

Clemons claims head injuries, history of drug abuse affected him

July 31, 2014
Jordan Clemons arrives at Washington County Courthouse in February 2012 for his preliminary hearing on a homicide charge. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Jordan Clemons, whose murder trial could begin as soon as September, was a standout football player in his high school years. He’s now claiming head injuries he suffered both on and off the field, plus years of drug abuse, diminished his mental capacity.

“The defense and its new mitigation specialist, Deb Mucha, have gathered evidence leading counsel to believe that a reasonable likelihood exists that the defendant may have brain injuries … or post-concussion syndrome,” wrote Clemons’ attorney, Brian Gorman, deputy public defender.

Clemons, 25, is accused of killing his former girlfriend, 21-year-old Karissa Kunco of Pittsburgh, in January 2012 and dumping her body in a wooded area of Mt. Pleasant Township. Kunco was last seen alive Jan. 11, 2012. State police allege after killing her, Clemons dragged her naked body into the woods along Sabo Road and covered it with leaves, brush and a tree stump. Her throat was cut.

Clemons, who was not present Thursday in Washington County Court, faces a host of charges, including criminal homicide, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

Gorman submitted information to Judge Katherine B. Emery that Clemons played the positions of running back and defensive back for approximately 10 years “leading to innumerable head collisions” during practices and games, which caused dizziness, temporary confusion or loss of consciousness, black eyes and headaches.

“He usually played through such circumstances causing repeated head collisions while in that condition,” Gorman wrote in his motion for a neurological examination for his client. “The defendant was knocked out and removed from a game at West Greene on a stretcher, taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital by ambulance on Oct. 6, 2006.” His injuries outside football included being hit in the head by a brick, after which his jaw was screwed together, and multiple car accidents in which he may have suffered head injuries. He was twice in cars that flipped over, and on another occasion, he was a passenger in a car that split a utility pole. Clemons also totaled his mother’s vehicle in a traffic accident.

Any brain injury Clemons experienced could be a factor in his ability to form criminal intent, Gorman outlined in his request to the court.

“Diminished capacity is often the phrase used when a defendant’s state of mind does not meet the legal requirements for first-degree murder, which requires a premeditated, willful and deliberate killing with specific intent to kill. If capacity is diminished but a defendant is found to have committed the act, it falls to a lesser degree of murder,” Gorman explained in an email after the court proceeding.

Gorman argued unsuccessfully at a May suppression hearing that statements Clemons made to state police violated his client’s right to remain silent and his right to counsel. He also argued Clemons was intoxicated or incapacitated when police interviewed him.

On Thursday, Emery granted Gorman’s request to have Allegheny Neurological Associates of Pittsburgh examine Clemons at a cost of up to $1,000, noting she would have to approve any additional costs. She also permitted Clemons to be evaluated by Dr. Duncan B. Clark of the University of Pittsburgh, who is both a psychiatrist and psychologist specializing in treating adolescents and young adults for drug and alcohol abuse.

Gorman, in his motion, told the court Clemons used alcohol and marijuana since age 12 and he began using of cocaine, Ecstasy, Xanax and other drugs at approximately age 16.

The defense can retain Clark at a cost of $250 per hour, not to exceed $2,500, according to the order the judge signed.

Assistant District Attorney Jerome Moschetta did not object to the defense requests as long as the prosecution was not penalized for any delay in bringing the case to trial because of the examination and evaluation.

Because capital punishment cases require a larger number of potential jurors, summonses will be sent in advance of a targeted Sept. 22 trial date, which is separate from Washington County Court’s two-week trial term that begins Sept. 8.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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