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A Fulton County, Ga., judge has postponed the death penalty trial of Muslim cleric Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin until Jan. 7. The decision comes in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks and escalating anti-Islamic sentiment. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis said her responsibility to ensure a fair trial necessitated granting a continuance. Al-Amin’s lawyers had sought the continuance over their client’s objections. Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, has been in jail for 18 months, accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of another deputy as they tried to serve a warrant on him in March of last year. DEFENDANT’S STATEMENT Al-Amin, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s and briefly a member of the Black Panther Party, asked and was allowed to speak directly to Manis. He read from a handwritten statement that began by offering praise to Allah and moved to a political statement on his situation. “I stand ready and seeking resolution of an unjust situation,” he said. “I have been told that a trial at this time is not wise … that the cry for vengeance is too loud.” Al-Amin said, “I am advised that because of patriotism in this country at this time, I am unable to now have a fair trial. Shouldn’t it be the opposite?” he asked, in a country whose banner of authority is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Or is that just a dream speech?” His lawyer, John R. Martin, told Manis that he understood his client’s frustration. But the defense team’s “over-arching duty to our client and to this court” compelled him to seek postponement of trial. Martin called the current situation “unprecedented in the history of our country” and the current dilemma before Manis “uncharted” legal territory. “Islam is a great religion,” Martin said. “It stands for peace. It is not a religion of terror and destruction. But as lawyers we must be realists,” he insisted. Finding a calm, objective and dispassionate jury is impossible in the current climate of anti-Muslim sentiment, he said. He noted that some mosques in other cities have been desecrated in recent days. “The nerves of our community are too raw,” Martin argued, adding that he doubted any jury could consider the case of any Muslim right now. DEFENSE LAWYERS AGREE All of Al-Amin’s four defense lawyers had conferred, Martin said, and come to an agreement. “We earnestly, unanimously and without caveat, implore the court to postpone at least until next year,” he said. While no one can predict what will occur in the coming months, he said, “we do know that now is not the time to try this case.” He urged Manis to heed defense counsel, not the defendant, on this issue. “The ultimate responsibility for the planning and presentation of this case falls squarely on our shoulders,” Martin said. Lawyers have an independent duty, he added, to make the best possible decision for their client. Senior Assistant District Attorney Robert C. McBurney, while announcing that the state was ready to proceed, didn’t insist on beginning the trial. He told the judge that it was solely a matter for her discretion. “The question is: What does justice require?” McBurney asked. He said he thought that a fair trial would mean not going forward in a charged atmosphere in which mosques are being defiled. And he said he didn’t disagree with Martin’s assessment of the defense lawyers’ duties to make an independent assessment of their client’s situation. ‘UNIQUE’ SITUATION These are difficult times, he said, in which citizens are “grappling with the murders of thousands, not just one” and the loss of many officers, not just one. He suggested that the court begin the jury selection process “and then stop” should Manis conclude that Al-Amin cannot receive a fair trial at this time. Martin, however, argued that beginning voir dire would be a misuse of resources. And it was too much to expect that jurors could sort out their feelings honestly at this point, he said. Manis said she agreed. “This is a unique set of facts,” she said, adding that she recognized the disagreement between Al-Amin and his lawyers. While juries aren’t chosen in a vacuum, she said, judges have an obligation to ensure that process is conducted as fairly as possible. “There is no right more important than the right to a fair trial,” she said. Had the defense lawyers not requested a continuance, Manis added, “The court would have granted one anyway … because I think that is my responsibility.”

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