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One client’s success in challenging dog-related evidence didn’t carry over to another client of defense lawyer John R. Martin — accused cop killer Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Martin lost a motion Tuesday to exclude evidence that three beagles and one bloodhound had tracked down Al-Amin last year in the Alabama woods near the town of White Hall. Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, is charged with killing one Fulton sheriff’s deputy and wounding another in March 2000 in front of Al-Amin’s grocery store in Atlanta’s West End. Martin also was concerned about the prosecution’s possible use of a 1969 book and a more recent tract written by Al-Amin, which Martin said would make the defendant’s political and religious beliefs an issue. Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis postponed a ruling on that issue. Manis also ruled Tuesday that prosecutors, through testimony of the dogs’ trainer, had laid enough of a foundation that the evidence of the Alabama manhunt could be admitted at Al-Amin’s trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 7. Al-Amin faces the death penalty if convicted. State v. Al-Amin, No. 00SC03563 (Fult. Super. March 28, 2000). ‘VERIFIABLE CERTAINTY’ Martin had argued that Fulton prosecutors had to show that dog tracking evidence, admitted in Georgia courts since the turn of the century, had reached the stage of “verifiable certainty” required of scientific evidence. Martin’s argument relied on a case with which he had first-hand experience — the 1994 trial of Hastings Nursery owner Weldon Wayne Carr, convicted of arson and the murder of his wife. In that trial, a dog handler’s expert testimony that an accelerant-sniffing dog had “alerted” on a site in Carr’s kitchen, was critical to the state’s case. That testimony proved to be the basis for the Georgia Supreme Court’s overturning Carr’s conviction in 1997. Carr v. State, 267 Ga. 701 (1997). Carr is scheduled to be retried early next year. The justices said the state presented no evidence that dog alerts met the Harper test — that is, that they had reached a degree of verifiable scientific certainty, as required in Harper v. State, 249 Ga. 519 (1982). This week, Martin argued to Manis that the dog-tracking evidence against Al-Amin was “almost identical to the Carr case.” Martin said he didn’t deny that dog tracking was a useful investigative tool. “The question is,” he added, “should it be allowed in evidence?” In Al-Amin’s case, the state is alleging that the former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Black Panther activist, later turned Muslim cleric, fled to Alabama March 16, 2000, after shooting two deputies. There, prosecutors contend, he shot at federal authorities pursuing him and fled into the woods, only to be tracked down by the dogs and arrested. Along the route taken by the dogs in trailing Al-Amin, police said they later recovered what they believe was the rifle used in the Atlanta shootings. To counter Martin’s motion, Senior Assistant District Attorney Robert C. McBurney called to the witness stand the dog handler from Alabama, Capt. Bruce Vermilyer. Vermilyer, a plain-spoken employee of Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery, Ala., testified that he has trained tracking dogs for 18 years, although he had no formal training in the field and only a high school education. The dogs he trained, he said, weren’t certified by any organization. Kilby has 18 dogs — beagles and bloodhounds — trained to follow a human scent, he continued. The animals were not trained as attack dogs, Vermilyer testified, because in addition to tracking escaped prisoners or suspects, the dogs also were used to find lost persons or children. So a beagle who caught up to the person being tracked “might lick on you, but that’d be it,” Vermilyer said. The witness said four dogs had tracked Al-Amin last year — Jane, Big Man and Foots, all beagles, and Duke, a Redbone bloodhound. Amid chuckles in the courtroom, Vermilyer went on to relate the dogs’ parentage — including a dog named Broccoli. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, they always get their man,” the dog handler said. Did he have records documenting that success rate? Martin asked the witness on cross. Vermilyer said he did not, and that he didn’t keep records on the dogs’ training either. Martin told Manis that the dog-tracking evidence didn’t meet the Harper standard. Vermilyer, he argued, had no training for his line of work, kept no records and the dogs were not certified by any police dog associations. All the witness had, Martin said, was his experience. Jurors regard dog-sniffing evidence with an almost “mystical” reverence,” Martin argued. In this case, he said, it was “the meat” of the state’s case and should meet the scientific standard. McBurney countered that the state didn’t have to meet the Harper test. Under Georgia law, he told the judge, all the state had to show was that the dogs were of a tracking breed, that they had been trained to follow human scents and that, at the time they located Al-Amin, they were under the supervision of a trainer. In the Carr case, a dog alerted in a certain way and an expert was needed to interpret that alert, McBurney said. In Al-Amin’s case, an expert wasn’t needed to testify that the dogs ran up to Al-Amin after following a scent through the woods, he added. Manis agreed. The Carr case and the Harper standard would apply, she ruled, only if an expert opinion were needed to interpret the dogs’ actions.

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