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Constitutional Law

Meet David Nevin, ‘Velvet Shiv’ Defense Attorney for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Posted Aug 22, 2012 11:15 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The military trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, isn't expected to begin until next year.

However, his hard-fighting defense lawyer, David Nevin, begins a six-day session of legal arguments on Thursday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that could result in the exclusion of important evidence from his trial, reports Bloomberg in a lengthy profile of the 63-year-old attorney.

Defending a critical figure in the notorious case moves Nevin, who practices at Boise, Idaho-based Nevin Benjamin McKay & Bartlett, onto an international stage. It also at least potentially subjects him to intense criticism, and worse, from those angry about the terrorist attacks.

That isn't likely to daunt Nevin, who drove to law school at the University of Idaho with classmate Breck Seiniger as they listened to recorded summations of arguments by Tony Serra. The civil rights lawyer is known for defending Huey Newton, a Black Panther leader who became well-known in the 1960s.

A past president of the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Nevin declined to speak with Bloomberg. However, those who know him described a thoughtful, tireless advocate for the underdog who never gives up.

“Ten people may look at evidence and be meticulous,” former federal prosecutor Celeste Miller tells the news agency. “But Nevin will likely come up with a theory or argument that others didn’t think of.”

Until now, Nevin's most prominent case was his successful defense of Kevin Harris, who was tried along with separatist Randy Weaver in the killing of a U.S. marshal during a standoff at Weaver's remote home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Harris was acquitted in 1993; Weaver, who was represented by renowned Wyoming trial lawyer Gerry Spence, was acquitted on all but one count. Both defendants subsequently won civil payouts from the government.

Spence argued his theory of the Ruby Ridge case as a botched federal raid. Nevin focused on the facts and inconsistencies in the evidence.

“Gerry is a more all-consuming, larger-than-life trial attorney,” said Geoffrey Fieger, a Michigan lawyer who is also a former client of Nevin's. But Nevin “dissects people without them realizing they’ve been dissected. He’s a velvet shiv.”

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