ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the death sentence for Jean Alex Clermont in the 1995 kidnapping, robbery and murder of a man at a Prince George’s County recreation center.
Clermont claimed that his conviction for the murder of John E. McMullen III, 28, should be overturned because of numerous errors by the trial court. But the high court, with one judge dissenting, rejected his claims.
Michael Braudes, an assistant public defender, said the decision would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Court documents said Clermont and three companions followed McMullen and a woman from the Penthouse Club in Northwest Washington to his Laurel apartment early on the morning of Sept. 19, 1995.
They robbed McMullen and his female companion outside the apartment, then forced him into the trunk of his BMW and drove off in it.
They ended up at the Knollwood Recreation Center on Edgefield Drive, where they demanded personal identification numbers to McMullen’s credit cards, pounding on the trunk and driving over curbs until he did so. When he did, court records say, Clermont shot into the trunk once, killing him.
A Prince George’s County jury convicted him on Oct. 17, 1996, and sentenced him to death a week later.
On appeal, Clermont claimed that he was wrongly denied a chance to cross-examine the state’s principal witness.
Rawle White, who was with Clermont on the night of the killing, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and agreed to testify against Clermont in exchange for a life sentence with all but 30 years suspended.
White testified that police told him Clermont had named him as the triggerman. That prompted Clermont’s attorney to say: “And so you claim that Alex Clermont pulled the trigger that night.”
Prosecutors objected to the remark and it was stricken from the record. The appeals court held that, because the defense attorney’s remark was in the form of a statement and not a question, it could be stricken.
But in his dissent, Chief Judge Robert Bell said that limiting cross-examination violated Clermont’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.
Bell wrote that Clermont “had every right to ask the state’s principal witness whether he was testifying that the appellant (Clermont) pulled the trigger because he had been told that the appellant accused him of being the triggerman.”
Bell also said that the trial court acted improperly by letting the state present its closing arguments after Clermont had addressed the jurors. He said in capital cases it is the defendant, not the state, who has the right to have the last word with the jury.
In his statement to the jury, Clermont apologized to the victim’s loved ones for his part in the murder and begged for mercy.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Jack Johnson said he was pleased with the appeals court decision.
“This will be a lesson to citizens, you don’t come to Prince George’s County and kill our citizens or else you’ll have to pay,” Johnson said.