Serbia seeks to block execution of citizen in Nevada

From: Associated Press

By MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press
Aug 15, 2011
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Serbian government is asking a Nevada court to block the execution of one of its citizens, saying its consulate was not informed of his 1994 arrest as required by international law.

Serbia, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed last week in Washoe County District Court in Reno, maintains the notification would have provided Avram Nika with assistance that could have spared him the death penalty.

Nika, 41, is on death row at Ely State Prison for the 1994 killing of a good Samaritan who stopped to help him along Interstate 80 near Reno. He has yet to exhaust his state and federal appeals.

“(Nika was) particularly vulnerable to the denial of consular assistance due to his inability to speak English and his lack of familiarity with the U.S. legal system and culture,” Serbia’s brief says.

The failure to notify the consulate caused no mitigating evidence to be presented at his sentencing hearing — such as that he was a hard-working family man who came from poverty and was discriminated against because he was a member of a nomadic ethnic group known as Roma, also called Gypsies, according to the document.

District Attorney Dick Gammick says there was no consulate to contact because the former Yugoslavia where Nika was from was undergoing drastic change at the time. Serbia did not exist as a country then, he said, and other countries in the region came and went.

“If they can be so kind as to tell us which consulate we were supposed to notify we would have an issue,” Gammick told The Associated Press. “There was no one to contact, there was no consulate. It was a physical impossibility for us to do what he demanded us to do.”

It’s not the first time a foreign government has appealed to U.S. courts on behalf of one of their citizens who wasn’t given the benefit of their consulates.

Last month, Mexico’s government unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a Texas execution to allow Congress time to consider legislation that would require court reviews for condemned foreign nationals who aren’t offered the help of their consulates. The high court rejected the request 5-4 and the Mexican citizen was executed.

Mexico protested and the United Nation’s top human rights official said the U.S. broke international law when it executed Humberto Leal for a 1994 rape and murder.

The Nevada case marks the first time Serbia has tried to enforce its rights under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, according to the prisoner advocacy group Reprieve based in London.

“The state of Nevada must face up to its deplorable failings in this case and order a new trial,” group spokeswoman Katherine Bekesi said, adding the Serbian consulate could have provided Nika translation, legal advice and key mitigating evidence.

Michael Pescetta, a federal public defender representing Nika, said the courts will have to decide whether Nika was harmed by a lack of access to consular services.

“We are pleased the Serbian government is interested in the case … and we are certainly hopeful their participation will help,” Pescetta said. “It’s a situation in which enforcement by the country of its rights may be important to the litigation.”

In December 2008, the Nevada Supreme Court denied Nika’s request to overturn his conviction by a 5-2 vote.

In his dissent, Justice Michael Cherry said jurors had “an incomplete depiction” of Nika’s character because of a lack of mitigating evidence about his background. Nika’s trial lawyers should have sought help from the Yugoslavian consulate, Cherry added.

Read the rest here.

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More Unity in Ely State Prison

Received in April of 2011:

By Christopher Gonzalez

I open in solidarity and with a quick shout out to all the men who participated in the March 14th show of resistance on unit one! Fist to heart with a warrior´s salute.

For all those who haven´t heard about – or have only received bits and pieces of the story – it´s like this… Unit 8 has been closed down “indefinitely,” because allegedly, the head culinary staff lacked proper manners and respect, so allegedly, a fellow prisoner got upset and hit the boss upside the head with a 25 lb mixer. Needless to say, the kitchen boss won´t be coming to work for a while. This being the case, those who hold us captive decided to make us all suffer the consequences. No school, no books, no law library, no showers, no laundry… A prison placed on “lockdown” when everyone in E.S.P. is already confined to their cells 23/24 hours a day!

The biggest crime acted against us (especially those of us on disciplinary segregation and who can´t order food) was how these sadists weren´t giving us proper proportions of food! For over a week all we received for breakfast was two small cups of cereal, and one hard-boiled egg (which was often still running inside). For lunch: “cold-cuts” with no fruit or desert. For dinner: we received “mystery food” (is it soup or pudding?) on paper trays which means smaller portions! We had to listen to the guards taunt us by saying how our food was being messed with because it was the caseworkers and maintenance people cooking it – and they were getting payback for all of the work we make them do! After a little more than a week of going to bed hungry and pissed off, some guys said aloud what everyone else was thinking: “This isn´t right. We´re all human beings regardless of race and affiliations. It´s time something´s done. Who´s ready? And with that, words of solidarity were spoken, and the next morning brought forth unleashed frustration.

A young soldier kicked it off by “capturing” his food slot, giving the unit senior a golded shower and starting a fire on the tier. Throughout the day more fires were lit. Both sides of unit one managed to flood out both wings and hallway. Fire “cocktails” and “donuts” were lobbed at the guards. But no cell extractions were attempted because the January 31st 2010 rebellion was still fresh in their minds and none of these cops are anxious to put themselves in that position again (c.o. Stubbs was stabbed on January 31st 2010 when he and a dozen other officers tried to assault another prisoner). In the end. There were no serious injuries (thankfully), but the guards were forced to do a lot of manual labor. And there was a decent amount of property damage. The best part was: the next day, we got our food back!!

But before everyone celebrates a victory, hear one more thing… there is rumor that because of budget cuts, we are going to start receiving two sack lunches a day and only one “hot” meal starting in June.

This should not be tolerated by any prisoner. If this rumor proves true, I encourage everyone to come together and show these people that there are still limits! Everyone on the outs, family, friends, comrades, there are no steel doors and concrete walls suppressing your voices, thus they can be heard louder than our own.

When you see these prisons burning – help fan the flames!!

In solidarity and in struggle,
Christopher Gonzalez

“They can divide but not conquer the spirit of resistance”

Received in April 2011, published in NPN8:

On May 20th, 2010, the pigs here at Ely managed to separate me from an atmosphere that, to them may have felt hostile. But to me it was a place of strength. I was surrounded by shady characters, but that is to be expected everywhere up here these days. Even so, there were many men there who were pushing themselves as well as others to become more than just thugs. There was a lot of positiveness being spread. A lot of education. A lot of growth.

Now I´m once again placed in the middle of a bunch of self-absorbed sleepers and degenerates…I guess I can´t be too upset. For I was once ignorant myself to why things are the way they are. I just need to see who I can reach out to here and see if I can build something positive… It´s still frustrating though.

The goon squad showed up at our unit and went straight to Coyote´s cell. We had all been given a heads up because a comrade saw them coming outside his back window. None-the-less. There was no reason for them to go to his cell. The comrade next to me was ready for battle, and so was I, but we held back, for being caught unaware, and Coyote came out without any problems. They shook down his cell and at the end, Coyote laughs and says: “Wow, all that for this little pile?” (referring to the 15plus guards, fully dressed in riot gear with an electric shield, all for a couple pieces of paper and a torn envelope!).

The cheers & jeers started as we all thought it was over, seeing the pigs and assistant warden, Brooks, head out to the sally port. Though next thing we knew – they came back in and marched straight up to my cell and the comrade´s cell next to mine. Long story short, we came out, for the simple fact that they wanted us to flip out. They shook our cells down for a long time, then they came and put the restraints and “dog leashes” on us and escorted us to other units. I don´t know where the comrade went or what happened once we were moved, but I was taken to another unit without being told why, where I stayed over the weekend, then I was moved again to another unit where I spent the following 7 (seven) weeks without anything but my mattress, state sheets and a styraphone cup. I was only able to clean my cell (which was covered in absolute filth) because another convict was able to pass me some cleaning supplies. I eventually received a “notice of charges” which said I was moved because they found evidence in my cell that suggested weapons manufacturing. I was given another six months in the “hole” on top of the year I just started for the “assault” and possession of a weapon that stemmed from our little disruption with the pigs a couple of months back.

It´s obvious why they did this: with much thanks to Coyote our unit was transforming into a school for guerrillas. With all the literature being passed around, all the enlightening discussions and all of the intense debates being held, the spirit of resistance was filling the minds and hearts of the men on that tier. It was refreshing to hear for a change people debating whether or not pimping women was unethical in stead of who´s the best couple on “Dancing with the stars”, or discussing how tactics found in George Jackson´s “Blood in my eye” could be applied to Vegas neighborhoods, in stead of how much dope it would take to sell in order to buy a million dollar home…

The pigs and snitches took notice of these transformations taking place and knew the only way to win was by the tactics of “divide and conquer.” I also believe that some scary individuals heard the sounds of steel cutting steel and decided to inform their captors like good lapdogs! Anyways, some good did manage to come out of this though! For, instead of the comrade and I focussing our efforts on the same tier, we can reach out to a larger group of convicts now. So yeah, we´ve been separated, but it doesn´t matter. All they did was prolong the inevitable. It doesn´t take anything but will and motivation to start anew. So for now, I´ve got some people to reach out to and some tools to collect.

In solidarity,
Christopher Gonzalez, 7-15-2010