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USA (Nevada): Death penalty / Legal concern: Thomas Nevius

, Index number: AMR 51/047/2001

A clemency hearing will be held for Nevada death row prisoner Thomas Nevius on 11 April 2001. If clemency is denied, the state will move to set an execution date.

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,
life-threatening conditions, as was the case here. While Thomas Nevius’s claim
is not one of actual innocence his involvement in the burglary that led to
the murder was enough to sustain a verdict of first-degree murder under Nevada
law the fact that he is the only defendant who received a death sentence,
coupled with his mental disability, raises profound questions of fairness.
For more information on this case, see Nevada’s planned killing of Thomas Nevius
(AMR 51/001/2001, March 2001), which UA participants may wish to consult before
sending their appeals (it is available on www.amnesty.org).
A bill will shortly be introduced into Nevada’s legislature proposing to ban
the death penalty for people with mental retardation. Thirteen of the 38 US
death penalty states have such legislation in place. International standards
oppose the use of the death penalty against people with mental retardation,
and also require that capital defendants must be provided with “adequate
assistance of counsel at every stage of the proceedings, above and beyond the
protection afforded in non-capital cases”. The state has violated both
safeguards in this case.
The Nevada Board of Pardons consists of the state’s Governor, Attorney General
and the seven justices of the state Supreme Court. A majority of the Board
must vote for clemency before the death sentence can be commuted, and the
Governor must be among that majority.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send faxes/express/airmail letters in English, IN
YOUR OWN WORDS, or your own language, using the following guide:
- expressing sympathy for the relatives and friends of David Kinnamon, and
explaining that you are not seeking to condone the manner of his death;
- noting that six jurors have stated that they would not have voted for execution
if they had known of Thomas Nevius’s mental retardation;
- noting that the Nevada legislature will soon consider legislation to outlaw
the use of the death penalty against defendants with mental retardation, as
13 other US states have already done;
- expressing deep concern at the allegations of racial discrimination;
- noting that doubts exist about whether Thomas Nevius, the only one of the
four co-defendants to receive a death sentence, was the person who actually
shot David Kinnamon;
- urging the Board to uphold standards of decency, fairness and justice
recognized around the world, and to grant clemency to Thomas Nevius.
Susan McCurdy
Executive Secretary
Nevada Board of Pardons
1445 Hot Springs Road, #108-B
Carson City, Nevada 89711, USA
Fax: + 1 775 687 6736
Salutation:Dear Board Members
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of USA accredited to your country.
If possible, please send copies of your appeal to:
Law Offices of the Federal Public Defender,
330 South Third Street, Suite 700, Las Vegas, NV 89101, USA
Fax: + 1 702 388 6261
You may also send brief letters of concern (not more than 250 words) to:
Letters to the Editor, Las Vegas Review Journal, PO Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125,
USA. Fax: +1 702 383 4676, E-mail: letters@lvrj.com (do not send letters as
attachments to e-mails, but as straight e-mails).
Letters to the Editor, Las Vegas Sun, 2275 Corporate Circle Drive, Suite 300,
Henderson, NV 89014-7720, USA. Fax: +1 702 383 7264. E-mail: via website:

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