Appeal Denied: Appeals court upholds Nassiri conviction

HOUGHTON – The 2014 murder conviction of a Dollar Bay man who killed his wife the previous year will stand, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Nima Nassiri is serving 20 to 40 years for the second-degree murder of Sanaz Nezami on Dec. 7, 2013 in their home. He appealed his sentence on the grounds his lawyer was ineffective at trial.

During the trial, Nassiri testified to an unprovoked attack on his wife after waking up that night, which included hitting her head to the floor four times. He also shoved an iPod into her mouth, causing bleeding.

Nezami was able to call 911 before losing consciousness. She suffered severe bleeding between the brain and skull; she was taken to Marquette General Hospital, where she died two days later.

The court rejected Nassiri’s argument that his lawyer, David Gemignani, was ineffective in several areas, including:

failing to consult with and call an expert witness to challenge the finding that the subdural hematoma was caused by a blow to the head. Nassiri’s claims that the hypothetical defense witness would have given helpful testimony is speculative and doesn’t meet the factual standard needed to demonstrate it would have altered the outcome.

failing to move for a change of venue, due to bias created by negative coverage, and failing to adequately question jurors about their exposure to the case. The appeals court found the jurors who were seated had stated they would only consider trial evidence.

“Further, given the overwhelming evidence in this case, there is no basis for concluding that the result of the proceedings would have been different if the trial had been conducted in a different county,” the ruling stated.

wrongly advising Nassiri the trial court required him to testify. Nassiri said Gemignani had told him during a recess that Judge Charles Goodman would require him to testify. The court could not find a factual basis for the claim, and said even if true, it could be construed to mean he if he did not testify then, he would not be granted a recess or adjournment to do it later. Nassiri’s original police interview was placed during the trial, which the appeals court said would counteract any negative impact of his testimony.

did not ask prospective jurors if they were biased against Middle Eastern men. But the question is only constitutionally required if race is an issue in the case, the appeals court said. Nassiri had submitted an affadavit from an attorney/jury consultant saying the question should have been asked due to the “overwhelmingly white” population of Houghton and the presence of anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in America. However, there was no evidence given that jurors in the case had such views, the court said. Unnecessary questions to jurors about racial prejudice might have made race an issue in the case, the court said.

failed to give the jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. that would have required demonstration that the crime was committed in “the heat of passion,” the court said. However, Nassiri’s defense was predicated on the notion that he did not intend to kill her, and that his blows were not enough to constitute blunt force trauma.

“Because no reasonable person could have found legally adequate provocation, the lack of a voluntary manslaughter instruction was not plain error, and the failure of counsel to request such a jury instruction was not plain error, and the failure of counsel to request such a jury instruction was not ineffective assistance of counsel,” the court’s ruling said.

failed to object to testimony regarding Nassiri’s prior drug use, which he said Prosecutor Michael Makinen improperly elicited. The appeals court found the questions of his past drug use and medical marijuana card were irrelevant to the trial. However, the court found no reason to think its use affected the outcome of the trial.

failed to object to the admission of autopsy photos, which Nassiri said a pathologist could have described to the jury. The court found they were relevant because the severity of the subdural hematoma was relevant to determining if Nassiri acted intentionally.

Nassiri argued because of the combined errors, he was unable to obtain a fair trial, an assertion with which the appeals court disagreed.

“[I]f the defendant has not established any errors, then reversal is not warranted … Defendant has not established any errors which, when taken cumulatively, wouid require reversal,” the court said.