LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A murder conviction has been overturned for the second time, and in both instances, it was based on race.
The I-Team has this exclusive story on a twist in the case they’ve been following for years.
Jemar Matthews was convicted of murder twice after two separate jury trials. His convictions were overturned based on one ultimate factor: race.
“My client got found guilty twice now based upon the color of his skin,” said Defense Attorney Todd Leventhal, who represents Matthews.
In 2006, 22-year-old Mercy Williams was gunned down in front of a friend’s North Las Vegas home. Police found Matthews hiding in a nearby yard and identified him as a suspect.
In a 2017 phone interview with the I-Team, Matthews said he had a restraining order and was supposed to stay away from a woman who lived nearby.
“I was running,” Matthews said in the interview. “I was scared. I didn’t want to go to jail.”
In 2007, Matthews was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
In 2017, after years of appeals, a federal judge ruled his rights were violated.
Judge Gloria Navarro pointed out there was no direct physical evidence placing Matthews at the scene of the deadly shooting. She also pointed to prosecutorial misconduct.
Former Prosecutor Linda Lewis told jurors in reference to Matthews and his co-defendant, “How innocent do they look to you?” and, “What, you think they walk around the street wearing those white shirts and ties? Come on.”
The jury was all white.
The I-Team interviewed Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson after the first conviction was overturned.
“A jury found him guilty, so we plan to retry him,” said Wolfson. We countered it was an all-white jury with the comments made by the prosecutor, to which he replied:
“You know, a judge found that the prosecutor’s comments were inappropriate. We accept that, so we’ll retry him again.”
In 2018, Matthews was convicted again. Only one juror was African American.
Leventhal appealed the decision, and the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the conviction on July 9.
This time, the appeal centered around an African-American woman who was not chosen to serve on the jury. Prosecutor John Giordani told Supreme Court justices he believed the juror may not deliver a guilty verdict based on her body language and answers while attorneys questioned potential jurors.
“What this claim is calling us racists … It’s absurd and offensive,” said Giordani. “She is the only person of the jurors that were questioned that she was shaky on the system.”
According to records, the juror also said she would be fair.
Leventhal said the Supreme Court’s decision helps shed light on the lack of diversity within juries.
“It’s part of the systemic profiling when we get to court,” he said. “It’s part of that system that’s unfair.”
Leventhal says when he told Matthews his conviction was overturned again, he cried. He remains in prison, and Leventhal says he will file a motion for his release.
The I-Team reached out to the DA for comment and to see if prosecutors will retry the case again. We did not receive a response in time for this report.