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High Court Disbars Wife Killer, Chides the Bar Assn.

Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court Thursday disbarred a San Diego lawyer who killed his wife by shooting her 10 times and ruled that the State Bar’s proposal to suspend the lawyer for 2 1/2 years was “inadequate.”

Lawyer Robert Lee Nevill was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison for killing his wife of 13 years, Marcie, in their Tierrasanta home in November, 1981.

Nevill, who ran unsuccessfully for the San Diego school board in 1980, is scheduled to be released from prison in March, according to court documents.

The Supreme Court oversees the State Bar’s disciplinary system, which has come under severe attack in recent months--although the court rarely reverses a bar recommendation on disciplining a lawyer.

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But after recounting details of Nevill’s crime, the court said he “committed the ultimate offense: the taking of a life. Two and one-half years’ actual suspension simply fails to attest to that fact.”

On the day of the shooting, Nevill took cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, and waited with a semi-automatic rifle for his wife to return home. When she arrived, the two argued over the custody of their 16-month-old daughter and over each other’s infidelities. He shot her 10 or 11 times, the court said.

Nevill was clutching his baby daughter when police arrived at the house. He admitted to shooting his wife, though he later claimed he was suffering from diminished capacity.

Nevill was unsuccessful in his profession, earning less than $5,000 a year as a lawyer. His wife earned $35,000 a year as a telephone company supervisor.

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During the trial, Nevill’s defense attorney attempted to show that Nevill was driven into a jealous rage as the result of an affair his wife was allegedly having with a fellow phone company employee.

Nevill testified that his wife looked at him and said, “You really are crazy, aren’t you?” after she had been mortally wounded. The couple’s young daughter was in the room where the shooting took place.

Nevill was tried on a murder charge, and when he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter he jumped up and down with glee in the courtroom.

After his conviction, Nevill made an attempt to collect $75,000 as a beneficiary of his slain wife’s life insurance.

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The Supreme Court on Thursday noted that Nevill “displayed a dangerous volatility which might well prejudice his ability to effectively represent his clients’ interest.”

The ruling overturned the bar’s recommendation of a 2 1/2-year suspension, plus another 2 1/2 years’ probation and requirements that Nevill pass a legal ethics examination and not abuse drugs.

The bar recently began taking steps to make its discipline system tougher. It has come under fire by legislators, some lawyers and others for what some say is a lax system that allows lawyers to escape with light punishment for criminal convictions and violations of professional ethics.


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