In all his 46 years, Thomas Nevius has rarely been first at anything. But this week the Nevada death-row inmate became the nation‘s first condemned killer to ask for clemency and have his death sentence commuted because he is mentally retarded. Nevius, an African-American who has scored between 57 and 78 on IQ tests, has been on death row for 20 years. He was sentenced to death for a Las Vegas burglary and murder he committed with three other men. Nevius was the only one to get the death penalty.
Nevius was next in line to be executed when his attorney sought to spare his life on grounds that Nevius is mentally retarded. “We had been everywhere and done everything we could for Thomas,” said Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal public defender who has represented Nevius for six years. “This was the last thing there was.”
Nevius was released from death row on November 20 after a unanimous vote by Nevada’s nine-member Pardons Board, made up of the governor, the state attorney general and the state Supreme Court. His sentence was reduced to life without parole. The board acted in response to a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court banning the execution of killers who are mentally retarded. In a statement made to the jury after his 1982 conviction, Nevius, who insisted that he was not the triggerman, had this to say: “I can‘t bring the man back. Sorry it happened, I am sorry. I know that sorry ain’t going to do it, but I just beg you people, you know, I can live the rest of my life in jail if that‘s what it takes. I can take the strain off my family and my little son to do life. I could feel much better, but send me to death for something that everybody not really sure of isn’t right. Isn‘t right.”