Murder-accused Clinton Thinn denies crimes.
Clinton Thinn is in the maximum security unit of a maximum security prison.
Thinn is in the George Bailey Detention Facility, south of San Diego, but closer to Tijuana and the Mexican border. He’s allowed out of his cell three times per week, for an hour at a time. His feet are shackled and his hands are cuffed to his waist.
He’s facing 14 charges connected with a botched bank robbery in June, and in December, he’s accused of murdering his 30-year-old cellmate, Lyle Woodward.
He’s also Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye’s stepbrother and went to prestigious school Auckland Grammar, and East Auckland school, Selwyn College.
Thinn has been visited by New Zealand freelance journalist Sam Boyer, who talked to him through glass on phones connected to a table. Every 15 minutes the line cut out and Thinn had to redial.
Boyer told RNZ’s Morning Report Thinn seems to be “putting on a brave face”, but ultimately doesn’t seem to grasp his situation.
“I don’t think he realises he could be in there for a very long time,” Boyer said.
A spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney's office said if convicted, Thinn faces 25 years to life.
“The way he speaks, it’s like he can’t maintain a train of thought. I would ask him things and he would half answer, then taper off or bring something up that was not really related to what we were talking about,” Boyer said.
Thinn refused to talk about his charges to Boyer, except to say “there’s nothing there”.
Last month he was interviewed by ABC 10 News and said, through glass, “don’t believe everything you hear” and “I didn’t kill anyone”.
He’s also an aspiring rapper and has a YouTube channel with a few amateurish videos. Public records show he previously owned a share of a commercial property in Kohimarama, and a NZ Herald story from 2011 identified him as the owner of a black Mercedes E-Class with the number plate 'CLAZZE'.
“We were there for about 90 minutes,” said Boyer.
“He asked me about sport, he tried to be quite chummy but it certainly wasn’t a chummy conversation. He asked me about the All Blacks.”
Thinn’s mental competency is currently being assessed so it can be judged whether he is fit to stand trial. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 10.
Boyer spoke to friends of Thinn, some of whom spent time with him in a rehabilitation facility. One said Thinn had a methamphetamine addiction; another said he suffered from a mental illness.
Thinn denied both in his conversation with Boyer.
Boyer wrote a feature about his time with Thinn, which was published by Stuff on Saturday. He quotes friends as saying Thinn’s mind “had potentially been unravelling for some time”.
“[His friends] say Thinn believed rap superstar Snoop Dogg had agreed to sign him to a “platinum record deal”; that pop icon Rihanna was his girlfriend; that rappers The Game, Lil Wayne, and 50 Cent “were out to get him” because they were jealous of his rhymes,” Boyer wrote.
Thinn’s family haven’t spoken to media about him, and Nikki Kaye has only released a brief statement saying it was “a difficult and sad time”.
The 14 charges Thinn faces in relation to the June 24 attempted bank robbery include attempted armed robbery, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon.
At the time, local media reported Thinn walked into a Bank of America branch holding a hammer, a rope and an orange flare gun.
The San Diego Tribune reported Thinn threatened to kill bank employees, and used the hammer to try to shatter a bullet-proof partition that six workers hid behind. No one was injured and he was arrested by police inside the bank.
According to a friend, Thinn had travelled to the United States for a holiday earlier that month and quickly found himself in financial trouble.
Six months later he was charged with strangling his black cellmate, Lyle Woodward. A friend of Thinn’s told The Wireless last month he had joined a white supremacist group in prison.
A Reddit post about the maximum security facility described it as “the Thunderdome”.“A lot of fights, Mostly within your same race for not following politics,” a user said.