An uncle of Maurice Clemmons says his nephew had been in a mental tailspin since spring and was withdrawn and "talking crazy about God" when he last saw him in Seattle a few months ago.
MARIANNA, Ark. — An uncle of Maurice Clemmons says his nephew had been in a mental tailspin since spring and was withdrawn and “talking crazy about God” when they last saw each other in Washington state.
Ray Clemmons, 39, a lieutenant in the Arkansas Department of Corrections and shift commander in a maximum-security unit, said his nephew was reclusive and withdrawn.
That was a far cry from the hustler who wanted what he had been denied during years of prison and an impoverished childhood in rural Arkansas and the crime-ridden projects of Little Rock.
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“Maurice was all about getting, all about having. He was all about money,” Clemmons said. “Then, suddenly, he was all about God.”
Maurice Clemmons, 37, was shot to death by police early Tuesday in South Seattle, ending an intense, two-day manhunt after four Lakewood police officers were shot to death at a coffee shop Sunday.
Ray Clemmons said his nephew “was fine” when he visited his uncle and grandmother in Marianna last spring.
But when Ray Clemmons and his family later visited his nephew and his wife in their Tacoma home — apparently just before Maurice Clemmons was to be jailed — the man he’d grown up with was hardly recognizable.
“He stayed off to himself. He was talking about religion and God,” Ray Clemmons said.
Ray Clemmons expressed remorse for the families of the slain officers.
“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “I’m in law enforcement myself. Maurice took away a lot. These families lost everything.
“My family has to live with this, and now some of them are being rounded up. There are a lot of consequences.”
He said he believes two things contributed to his nephew’s killing spree.
One involves a bizarre report from Seattle family members that Maurice Clemmons may have believed he’d been cursed by a “devil worshipper.” Clemmons supposedly let that man live on a mobile home on his Tacoma property.
Ray Clemmons said his nephew had gone to the mobile home after reports of a ruckus.
“What I heard was this guy was tearing up the place. There was a fight, and his guy is supposedly chanting things and saying these things to Maurice.”
“It did something to him,” Ray Clemmons said. “After that, he was a terror.”
The other contributing factor, Ray Clemmons said, was his nephew’s jailing this summer.
Maurice Clemmons was arrested in May on seven counts of assault and malicious mischief after a disturbance during which he allegedly punched a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy.
Two days later, he allegedly gathered his wife and younger relatives and forced them to undress, while preaching that he was Jesus and that the world was going to end.
An investigation into that incident led to a second-degree felony charge of child rape in July. Clemmons was in and out of jail through the summer and fall, before his Nov. 23 release after posting bond.
“He was bitter,” Ray Clemmons said. “He felt like he’d been mistreated. He did not like police. And he wasn’t going to go back to prison.”
The men were close in age and grew up together in Marianna, 85 miles east of Little Rock near the Mississippi border. The tiny town is dilapidated; most buildings on the block-long Main Street have peeling paint and boarded windows.
Maurice Clemmons lived in a mobile home with his mother and a number of half-siblings. Many aunts, uncles and cousins lived in tar-paper shacks and tiny clapboard houses. The porch door of his grandmother’s house — screen ripped and hanging crooked — is tied shut with a shoestring.
“We were poor, but back then, there wasn’t the crime,” Ray Clemmons said. “We spent our days running through the woods, swinging on vines. Doing what kids do.”
In the mid-1980s, with work hard to find, Ray and Maurice Clemmons moved with their families to the East End Housing Project in Little Rock — just as the first waves of the crack-cocaine epidemic washed over the city.
“That was when all the friends started killing each other over money,” Ray Clemmons said.
He said he went to school, the recreational center and home every night. In 1986, he and his family moved back to Marianna. “It was just too dangerous,” he said.
Maurice Clemmons stayed in Little Rock. His father, who worked for Chrysler, died in 1987. After that, Maurice Clemmons “got into trouble,” his uncle said.
Maurice Clemmons was convicted of burglary, robbery and other charges in 1989 and 1990, receiving sentences of more than 100 years. Then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted the sentence in 2000, after 11 years in prison. In 2001, Clemmons was returned to prison in Arkansas for nearly three years.
“I think all of this just piled up,” Ray Clemmons said. “The rape charge was going to cost him his wife. He was looking at going to prison again, maybe for life. He got taken to the brink, and he snapped.”
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org