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Three cars were parked where prosecutors say Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin fired on Fulton County, Ga., deputies, but defense lawyers will get to examine only one. One of the cars has disappeared and the other, a Fulton County Sheriff’s Department squad car damaged by gunshots in the incident, has been repaired and is back on patrol. In pretrial hearings, Al-Amin’s lawyers, John R. “Jack” Martin and Bruce S. Harvey, have asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis to take notice of the missing evidence. Though they haven’t suggested a remedy, the defense lawyers have asked Manis to consider one. State v. Al-Amin, No. 00SC03563 (Fult. Super. March 21, 2001). Several remedies are available to the judge, say criminal defense attorneys, including addressing the missing evidence in her jury instructions or disallowing some of the state’s evidence generated by its study of the cars. She even could take the death penalty off the table at trial. “It’s just not fair,” Martin told Manis. The evidence, Martin said, could “support our contention that Mr. Al-Amin could not have been the shooter. It is a critical issue that we were very anxious to test.” The state was able to examine and document that evidence, he said in the hearing. But the defense will have to rely on the reports and photos taken during the prosecution’s examination, rather than countering with its own expert testimony. The state claims that Al-Amin, once a Black Panther known as H. Rap Brown, fired on sheriff’s deputies Richard L. Kinchen and Aldranon English March 16, 2000, when they tried to serve a failure to appear warrant from Cobb County. Kinchen died of gunshot wounds from a rifle and a handgun. English was injured seriously. Al-Amin then allegedly fled in a Mercedes-Benz to Whitehall, Ala., where, federal marshals reported, he fired on them as they tried to arrest him. The Mercedes is the only car to which the defense still has access. A Fulton grand jury indicted Al-Amin on 13 felony charges, including aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, murder and weapons violations. Al-Amin could face the death penalty if convicted. Al-Amin has maintained since his arrest that corrupt law enforcement officers and organized crime figures conspired to set him up. He claims the groups want him dead for his work trying to curtail drug dealing and child prostitution near Atlanta’s Metropolitan Parkway. In a habeas petition filed shortly after his arrest, Al-Amin explained his flight as an effort to save his life and avoid an unlawful arrest. Robert C. McBurney has returned from a brief stint in private practice to prosecute the Al-Amin case for the Fulton district attorney’s office. Judge Manis has forbidden lawyers for the state and defense to comment on the case outside of court. At a hearing last month, Martin diagramed the locations of the three cars in front of Al-Amin’s grocery in Atlanta’s West End area during the shootout. According to Martin’s diagram, Al-Amin’s car — the black Mercedes — was sandwiched between an abandoned Oldsmobile and the squad car where the officers were seated. During the gun battle, the squad car was struck in the driver’s side front fender, wheel and hubcap. Though Judge Manis granted a defense motion to preserve all evidence, the sheriff’s office repaired the cruiser and then lost the parts it replaced. The Oldsmobile was impounded, but then mistakenly sold for salvage. At two hearings this summer, Martin told Manis that the defense wanted to examine the cars for other signs of damage, angles of trajectory and other ballistics data. As the case stands, the state will be able to present its own ballistics reports, but the defense never will have had the opportunity to examine the cars. Atlanta defense lawyer Michael R. Hauptman says that might not be such a bad thing. Al-Amin has been claiming a conspiracy, he says, and his lawyers will be able to show jurors that important evidence is missing. “It’s very rare that you can claim a conspiracy and actually have evidence of it,” he says. Hauptman defended Gregory P. Lawler in his 2000 death penalty trial for shooting Atlanta police officer John “Rick” Sowa to death and injuring Sowa’s partner, Patricia Cocciolone. Manis also presided over that case, in which Lawler was convicted and sentenced to death. Hauptman says it’s difficult to predict what Manis will do. “[Manis] is very conscious of the effect a trial judge’s rulings can have on the future progression of a case,” he says. Perhaps the best option, he says, is to make sure jurors know that the state had the chance to examine evidence that the defense never got to see. “The best remedy would be an instruction to the jury that the government tampered with evidence and that they should take it in that light,” he says. Al-Amin’s trial is to start this fall. Another hearing is set for Aug. 16, and Judge Manis has said that more hearings are likely before jury selection begins.

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