James Neske was killed, but what exactly caused the Las Vegas inmate to die remains a mystery nearly five months later. Now, Las Vegas police are saying his death may be a case of self-defense.
On Nov. 5, the Clark County coroner’s office ruled the 25-year-old’s July 15 death a homicide. He died at University Medical Center following a “physical altercation” on July 10 at the Clark County Detention Center..
But instead of releasing a specific cause of death — gunshot wounds, strangulation or stab wounds are common for killings — the coroner’s office said Neske died of “homicide by unspecified means.”
Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Ray Spencer said Thursday that the case has been submitted to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office to determine if any charges will be filed against a person whom Spencer declined to name.
“Neske was involved in an altercation with another inmate, however we have concerns that the inmate that caused the injuries to Neske may have acted in self defense,” Spencer said in a text message to the Review-Journal on Thursday.
According to the Metro online homicide log, a 26-year-old man is the suspect in the killing of a 25-year-old who died July 15. Dispatch logs indicate the assault that led to the homicide happened at the jail about 11:50 p.m. July 10.
On Metro’s online homicide log, Neske’s cause of death is classified as “blunt force trauma.”
But his official cause of death — homicide by unspecified means — is a rare ruling, Clark County coroner John Fudenberg said during a brief phone interview with the Review-Journal in November.
Fudenberg said that a short academic paper titled “Homicide by unspecified means” lays out the criteria his office uses to make the ruling.
The paper looked at 18 homicides from 1990 to 2004 in Miami that would qualify for the unusual ruling. According to the paper, ruling a death a homicide doesn’t require medical examiners to find “an anatomic cause of death” if the “totality” of police and medical evidence points to a homicide.
Of the cases examined by the paper’s authors, no anatomical cause of death could be determined for the bodies. Fudenberg said Thursday that the anatomical cause of death the paper refers to would be a lethal injury a forensic pathologist could point to.
“Therefore, we wouldn’t apply this (homicide by unspecified means) ruling to that type of case,” he said.
Inmate jailed in 2018
Neske was booked into the jail on Aug. 22, 2018, and later pleaded not guilty to charges of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery with a deadly weapon, battery with substantial bodily harm and battery with intent to commit robbery, court records show. The case was closed following his death.
He was granted a release from custody “in order to spend time with his family,” after he “had some medical complications based on the representations of the Clark County Detention Center and stipulation of the parties,” according to online court records.
Those records were filed July 17, two days after Neske died at the hospital.
Five criteria must be met in order to rule a death a homicide by unspecified means, according to the academic paper. There must be “objectively suspicious circumstances;” no anatomical cause of death; no “toxicological” cause of death from drugs; no environmental, circumstantial or “historic” cause of death, such as exposure to extreme cold or a prior medical condition; and a more specific cause of death must be ruled out.
Spencer said Thursday that the district attorney’s office should be finished reviewing the case “within the next two weeks.”