Hearing for death row inmate

Amnesty International USA is urging members to write the Nevada Board of Pardons on behalf of a mentally retarded death row inmate who has a last-chance clemency hearing on April 11.

No one’s claiming that death row prisoner Thomas Nevius, whose intelligence quotient has been rated as low as 64, is an innocent man. A jury in 1982 found Nevius and three other men guilty of breaking into a Las Vegas home and killing David Kinnamon after the man walked in on the attempted sexual assault of his wife, Rochelle. Of the four intruders, only Nevius received the death penalty.

Nevius’ half-brother testified against him, and the brother received probation in return for his testimony. Also, during jury selection, the removal of four black and two Hispanic jurors ensured that African-American Nevius would be tried in front of an all-white jury.

Even so, six of the jurors from the original trial later signed affidavits that they would not have voted for the execution of Nevius if they had known that he was legally mentally retarded or that a neuropsychologist had concluded that Nevius had brain damage. And Nevius’ trial lawyer stated in a later affidavit that his own inexperience in capital cases might have affected the outcome.

Nevius’ clemency hearing comes at a time when Nevada state legislators are debating four bills concerning the death penalty. AB 353, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, would ban the execution of individuals who are mentally retarded. AB 327, sponsored by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, would raise the minimum age for offenders eligible to be sentenced to death from 16 to 18 years (at the time of the crime). Assemblyman Bob Price, D-Las Vegas, is backing AB 354, which would provide DNA testing for death row inmates if the testing is relevant to an offender’s guilt. And Sen. Joe Neal, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring SB 254, which would abolish capital punishment in Nevada.

But even if any of these bills pass, it wouldn’t help Nevius. The April clemency hearing will be the last chance to stop the state from proceeding with execution. Attorneys representing Nevius lost appeals in 1986, 1996 and 1997. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging racial discrimination and inadequate representation, was rejected earlier this month.

Advocates are asking that Nevius’ sentence be commuted to two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole. If clemency is denied, the state will set an execution date.

“The fact that he is the only defendant who received a death sentence, coupled with his mental disability, raises profound questions of fairness,” says Nancy Hart, an Amnesty International volunteer from Reno.

For more on the organization’s efforts, read “Nevada’s Planned Killing of Thomas Nevius” in the www.amnesty.org document library.