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Clinton Thinn, the step-brother of National MP Nikki Kaye, is accused of strangling his cellmate Lyle Woodward at a jail in San Diego in late 2016, following his arrest for an attempted bank robbery in Chula Vista, California.
Neal Putnam is a reporter with The Star News in Chula Vista and was in court this week.
The prosecutor was asking for a first-degree murder conviction, he said.
"They said at some point he strangled him to unconsciousness - Lyle Woodward was found almost in a coma, at least it was unconscious, and they ran him to a hospital and he stayed there for a week and his parents eventually turned off life support because he suffered irreversible brain damage."
However, Putnam said prosecution team had no witnesses to that and Mr Thinn's lawyer's were arguing it was not murder.
"He made the statement that his client had no choice but to defend himself, that the inmate had attacked him earlier ... he said 'he assaulted my client, Mr Thinn had no choice'.
"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," Putnam said.
Putnam said he was surprised that Mr Thinn's nationality came up as a reason for harassment as there were all sorts of people in jail.
"That's what the defence attorney said, that his client was a foreigner, he had an accent and didn't fit in," he said.
If Mr Thinn is convicted of first-degree murder he could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.