The case of Clinton Thinn, the Kiwi facing death row

The aspiring Kiwi rapper could face the death penalty for a first-degree murder in San Diego - so who is Clinton Thinn?

The 29-year-old hails from Auckland and attended  Selwyn College and Auckland Boys Grammar.

He's posted five videos of himself rapping on YouTube, none of which have been viewed widely.

It's believed he recently moved to the US to pursue his rapping career.

He's the step-brother of Cabinet minister Nikki Kaye, who says his family is facing a "sad and difficult" time.

In a short statement, Ms Kaye says it is a "difficult and sad time for all those affected by what has happened".

She didn't want to comment further because the case is before the courts.

What crimes is he accused of?

The San Diego sheriff's office lists eight charges: first-degree murder, threatening to kill, five charges of attempted robbery and aggression with a weapon causing grievous bodily injury.

Thinn was named as the sole suspect in the armed robbery of a Bank of America in Chula Vista, San Diego.

Local police said Thinn was alleged to have walked into the bank just before 6pm on June 24 last year with a flare gun and hammer.

He demanded money from the teller and when he was refused, he confronted a security guard and fired the gun toward them.

Employees ran for cover and locked themselves in a room behind security glass, NBC San Diego reported at the time.

Police were called and while staff waited for them to arrive, Thinn allegedly tried to get into the secure room with the hammer. He demanded money and threatened to hurt the workers, witnesses told police.

As police arrived, they noticed Thinn had used rope to tie the entrance shut but authorities managed to get inside and arrest him. No employees were hurt.

He faced a number of charges including using a person as a shield, second-degree burglary, possession of an explosive device and false imprisonment, NBC reported.

Thinn has his bond set at US$2 million for the murder charge, which is thought to relate to killing a fellow inmate at George Bailey Detention Facility.

However, he's not eligible for release on bail. He hasn't entered pleas yet, but if convicted of murder he could face the death penalty.

He has two scheduled court dates for his charges in late February and early March.

Where is he being held?

The maximum security George Bailey Detention Facility opened in 1993 and is the largest under the San Diego County Sheriff's jurisdiction.

George Bailey Detention Centre (Supplied)
George Bailey Detention Centre (Supplied)

It has a capacity of 1380 inmates, though the average daily population is 1774.

The facility, around 40km from San Diego's CBD, has 220 sworn staff and includes six housing units and a medical area.

On December 11, a brawl broke out between inmates, sending three to hospital.

In a sheriff's department notification, it describes the incident as starting when one inmate attacked another in the dayroom.

"This immediately prompted approximately 20 inmates to begin fighting each other."

A number of officers and staff went to stop the fighting and were initially successful, however, the fight erupted again shortly afterward.

They were eventually able to stop the fighting, which resulted in three inmates being sent to local area hospitals for various injuries.

The initial report says the extent of the injuries was unknown and the investigation was ongoing.

Does the death penalty apply?

California is one of 30 states in which the death penalty is legal.

In November last year, the state voted against a measure to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Along with keeping capital punishment, voters also backed a proposal to make executions happen faster by adding lawyers to handle death penalty cases and putting time limits on inmates' appeals.

Which crimes are punishable by the death penalty?

In California, capital punishment can be ordered for a number of crimes:

  • First-degree murder
  • Sabotage
  • Treason
  • Perjury causing execution of an innocent person
  • Fatal assault by a prisoner serving a life sentence

How likely is it he could be executed if sentenced to death?

There are around 750 inmates awaiting appeals or execution in California, which houses around a quarter of all death row inmates in the US, The Atlantic reports.

But the state only carries out a small portion of executions for those sentenced to death, having executed just 13 of more than 900 inmates since the return of capital punishment in the 1970s.

Official statistics show it's more likely death row inmates will die of natural causes, with around 70 dying since 1977.

Another 25 committed suicide, while around half a dozen died in other ways including drug overdoses or murder.