A New Zealand man facing life in jail in the US was targeted in prison because of his accent and had no choice but to defend himself, his lawyer says.

Aucklander Clinton Thinn, the stepbrother of National MP Nikki Kaye, is accused of strangling his cellmate Lyle Woodward at a jail in San Diego in December 2016, after he was arrested for a botched bank robbery.

The prosecutor was asking for a first-degree murder conviction, Star News reporter Neal Putman in Chula Vista told RNZ today.

Clinton Thinn will appear in court on the murder charge on March 6. He has pleaded not guilty. Photo / via Facebook
Clinton Thinn will appear in court on the murder charge on March 6. He has pleaded not guilty. Photo / via Facebook

"He said 'he assaulted my client, Mr Thinn had no choice'," Putnam said.

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"Then he added 'he's a foreigner, he has an accent, he didn't fit in, he had no choice', but he stopped short of saying exactly what he had done, and I don't know how they're going to bring out that information unless his client takes the stand."

Thinn will appear in court on the murder charge on March 6. He has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted of first-degree murder, he could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

A friend of Thinn's previously told the Herald they had met at Auckland's Selwyn College, after Thinn left Auckland Grammar School.

He considered himself a close friend and would be trying to contact Thinn in prison to offer support.

The old schoolmate, who asked not to be named, said Thinn had gone through personal issues over the years and had been failed by those around them.

"He should have never left the country."

Thinn's mother died a number of years ago and he inherited a large amount of money, the friend said.

If convicted, Thinn faces a minimum of 25 years in prison or the death penalty. Photo / via Instagram
If convicted, Thinn faces a minimum of 25 years in prison or the death penalty. Photo / via Instagram

He bought an inner-city apartment on Lorne St. He also owned a Mercedes at the time.

The two-bedroom apartment was featured in Herald Homes in June 2011.

In an interview, the then-accounting student said he wanted to make his home a unique and hip place to live.

"I decided to make some alterations and put a fish tank in the wall to make the apartment feel alive as opposed to a sterile hotel environment.

"When I am studying, I like to hear water in the background. It's calming.''

Thinn, a lover of hip-hop and rap, often posted videos of himself rapping to lyrics he had written under the rap artist name BigMac and Richochet Rocket.

Thinn's old friend said he felt guilty about his mate's situation.

"He was led on by a lot of his friends that he was a good rapper.

"When really, people were just leading him on, it was just funny for us to watch.

"That was his motive to go to the US.''

The friend acknowledged Thinn could have had more support in America and did not need to rob a bank.

"He's got money. He comes from a family of money.

"He wasn't a proud friend to have around, but he was a dear friend."

Aucklander Clinton Thinn, the step-brother of National MP Nikki Kaye, is accused of strangling his cellmate Lyle Woodward at a jail in San Diego. Photo / Instagram
Aucklander Clinton Thinn, the step-brother of National MP Nikki Kaye, is accused of strangling his cellmate Lyle Woodward at a jail in San Diego. Photo / Instagram

Another mate said he was also concerned for the former Aucklander, who had moved to the US to further his rap career.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said Thinn was receiving consular advice.

A former schoolmate, who wished to remain anonymous, said Thinn's behaviour was sometimes "pretty crazy".

"He's a bit of an odd character," he told the Herald.

The friend said Thinn was an aspiring rapper who posted videos of himself performing online.

"All of a sudden he just went MIA [missing in action] then next minute he's posting up photos in California."

Another associate said Thinn had just broken up with his girlfriend before travelling to the US.

- NZN, NZ Herald