The Tennessee Supreme Court has denied a new murder trial to Clarence Nesbit, who has been on death row since 1995. The Court was unanimous in its finding that Nesbit failed to prove the performance of his lawyer affected the outcome of his murder case.
On May 20, 1993, Nesbit shot and killed 20-year-old Miriam Cannon in her apartment in Memphis. At trial, the jury found Nesbit guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Nesbit’s conviction and sentence both were upheld on appeal.
In 1999, Nesbit filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asserting that his trial counsel did not provide effective assistance by failing to investigate, prepare, and present certain evidence at trial and by not communicating a plea offer to him in a timely manner. In 2009, the post-conviction court ruled that Nesbit was not entitled to post-conviction relief as to his murder conviction, but awarded him a new sentencing hearing based on his attorney’s performance. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the post-conviction court’s decision.
On appeal from the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Supreme Court held that Nesbit did not prove that he was prejudiced in the guilt phase of his trial by any deficiency on the part of his attorney. Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee authored the opinion for the Court, which determined that Nesbit did not offer clear and convincing proof that different actions on the part of his trial counsel would have changed the verdict reached by the jury.
Further, though his trial counsel delayed conveying to Nesbit the terms of plea offer, Nesbit failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there was a reasonable probability that he would have taken the plea offer had it been presented to him earlier.
The Court denied Nesbit a new trial on the murder conviction, and the case was sent back to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.