PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/047/2001
UA 55/01 Death penalty / Legal concern 13 March 2001
USA (Nevada)Thomas NEVIUS, black, aged 44
A clemency hearing will be held for Nevada death row prisoner Thomas Nevius
on 11 April 2001, four days before his 45
birthday. He has been on death row
for nearly two decades, having been sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder
of David Kinnamon. If clemency is denied, the state will move to set an execution
David Kinnamon was killed in Las Vegas in July 1980 as he returned from work
to find burglars in his apartment. As the four intruders fled through a window,
one of them fired a gun and David Kinnamon was shot dead. His wife, Rochelle
Kinnamon, was subjected to an attempted sexual assault during the crime.
Two of the four intruders pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and were
sentenced to life imprisonment. A third, Thomas Nevius’s younger half-brother,
pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received probation in return for
testifying against Thomas Nevius.
Thomas Nevius’s trial lawyer, who had never handled a capital case before,
has stated in an affidavit that his inexperience meant that Nevius did not
receive the quality of representation that a capital case demands. For example,
the jury was left unaware of the defendant’s mental disability. Thomas Nevius,
whose childhood was marked by appalling poverty and deprivation, was in special
education at school, and his IQ was measured as low as 64 at the time (an IQ
of under 70 is an indicator of retardation). In 2000, an expert concluded
that Nevius has mental retardation, with an IQ of 68. A second expert, a
neuropsychologist, reached the same conclusion, adding that Thomas Nevius has
brain damage. Six of the jurors from the original trial have signed affidavits
that they would not have voted for execution if they had known this.
During jury selection, the Clark County prosecutor removed all four black and
both Hispanic jurors. He thereby ensured that Thomas Nevius, who is African
American, would be tried in front of an all-white jury for the murder of a
white man and the attempted sexual assault of a white woman. A former prosecutor
in the Clark County District Attorney’s office has said that it was the practice
at the time “to attempt to remove all African-American jurors in cases in which
the defendant was African-American”. Other lawyers have signed affidavits
making the same claim.
Thomas Nevius’s trial lawyer later alleged that the prosecutor said to him
in a conversation after the trial: “You don’t think I wanted all those niggers
on my jury, did you?”, and, in reference to the removal of jurors, “I did a
good job of that, didn’t I?” Without holding an evidentiary hearing, the Nevada
Supreme Court ruled that the lawyer’s allegations were not credible because
he had taken too long to raise them. In so doing, the court implied that the
lawyer, now an administrative law judge, committed perjury in making the claims.
The prosecutor has not unequivocally denied making the comments, but has stated
that if he did, it was in response to the defence lawyer’s own use of the term
“niggers” in their conversation.
An expert in eyewitness testimony has reviewed the case and concluded that
the state’s key witness, Rochelle Kinnamon, may have mistakenly identified
Thomas Nevius as the gunman. Eyewitness identification is notoriously
unreliable, particularly cross-racial identifications made under traumatic,