Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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Looking in on: Justice:

Video of stabbing helps defendant get plea deal

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LAS VEGAS SUN file

Michael Chambliss pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday.

To the casual observer, the district attorney’s office appeared to have an airtight murder case against longtime political activist and consultant Michael Chambliss.

Prosecutors, after all, had a videotape of Chambliss stabbing to death a Nigerian-born boxer in the backroom of a convenience store in November 2005.

But the start of the trial was repeatedly postponed, in part to allow the two sides time to work out a plea bargain. Last week Chambliss, 55, was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of voluntarily manslaughter, for which he may have to serve only two years behind bars.

Did Chambliss get a sweetheart deal because of his political connections? He used to hold a lucrative airport concession, contract and was a campaign consultant to former County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates and a city co-worker of Wendell Williams, a longtime assemblyman.

District Attorney David Roger says the plea bargain actually was the result of a simple conclusion among prosecutors: The case wasn’t airtight at all.

“It’s not every day we have a murder case on video,” Roger says. “In this case we had a video that really cut both ways.”

In other words, the video could have also played into the defense’s hands.

The video shows that the boxer, 26-year-old Vincent Ekeoba Moses, was the aggressor in the altercation in close quarters that led to his death, Roger said. It shows Moses arguing with his girlfriend and then slapping her in the head. Chambliss then intervened, stabbing Moses several times.

Chambliss’ lawyers might have been able to make their case to a jury, Rogers says.

“A jury might have believed that Chambliss was acting in defense of others and that could have led to an acquittal,” the district attorney says.

The defense was also prepared to call Freddie Roach, a former professional boxer and now trainer, to the witness stand to testify about how a boxer’s hands could be viewed as deadly weapons, Roger adds.

So the plea bargain is “a fair deal to both sides,” Roger says.

The maximum prison time District Judge David Barker could give Chambliss at his Aug. 10 sentencing would be 20 years.

Moses’ family still has a wrongful death suit pending against Chambliss.

•••

Curbing the violence on the border from Mexican drug cartels has become a priority of the Obama administration.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which recently shifted about 100 agents to the border, is playing a big role in that effort.

“Firearms falling into the hands of the criminal element is something we always take seriously,” says Thomas Chittum, one of two special agents in charge of the Las Vegas ATF office.

Over the past several months, local ATF agents have been part of the effort to stem the flow of weapons to Mexico.

William Weiss, 36, and his brother Jonnatan Weiss, 28, appeared in federal court Monday. An ATF criminal complaint charges them with making false statements to local gun dealers to acquire weapons that agents believed ended up in Mexico.

At least 19 weapons purchased unlawfully here by the brothers from December to February may have been transported to Mexico, the complaint alleged. Jonnatan Weiss told agents he lived with his mother in Tijuana, Mexico.

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