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Potential jurors for the murder trial of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin got a friendly chat from an upbeat Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis Tuesday. Then they met the players in the high-profile case. By Thursday, however, matters had turned more serious. The would-be jurors were greeted by a bomb scare that shut down the courthouse and nearby buildings. The court complex was evacuated at about 9:15 a.m. Sheriff’s deputies blocked street and sidewalk traffic for two blocks surrounding the building. Once the courthouse was reopened around 10:30 a.m., jurors returned to the jury assembly room while, in Manis’ courtroom, Al-Amin’s defense lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the jurors who had been evacuated. Manis refused. “We cannot give power to those who function in secret over us,” she said. “Bomb threats on the phone shouldn’t be taken lightly but I have great confidence in the attorneys to be able to sort [matters] out in voir dire.” Manis said the threat was called in to the county manager’s office. But the Fulton County Superior Court clerk’s office also got a threatening call prior to evacuating. Chief Deputy Clerk Karen Calloway says an office receptionist took a call from a very calm, male voice. The caller said, “My brother is a Muslim. They’re having that trial and I’m going to blow up the courthouse,” according to Calloway. Al-Amin, who was named H. Rap Brown when he was a civil rights activist in the 1960s and is now a Muslim cleric, is charged with murder and aggravated assault on a police officer in the fatal shooting of Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of another deputy. The officers were attempting to serve a warrant on Al-Amin in March 2000. Al-Amin’s trial had been postponed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks out of concern that escalating anti-Muslim sentiment would prevent him from getting a fair trial. DIFFERENCES ON JURY SELECTION Al-Amin, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s and then, briefly, the Black Panther Party, had opposed the delay and has insisted on his innocence. He also insisted that jury selection be open to the public and the press, despite Manis’ announced leanings toward closure. Manis had said she wanted the lawyers to be able to “tap into sensitive areas” with potential jurors, such as anti-Muslim bias, and that the presence of the press might inhibit that type of discussion. But a lawyer for Al-Amin said there was great concern in the community that proceedings involving Muslims not be conducted in secret. Pretrial hearings in the case have drawn a group of at least a dozen, and sometimes more, Al-Amin supporters, some of whom attend each proceeding. Tuesday, Manis assured the approximately 135 jurors assembled in one of the first-floor ceremonial courtrooms that while the press would be present, jurors would remain anonymous. Their names, she said, would be kept confidential and no cameras would photograph them. About 1,500 summons — probably a record number for a Fulton trial — were sent to potential jurors, directing them to come to the Fulton courthouse for one of seven sessions, 250 at a time. But only about half that number are expected to show for any given session, since people move out of the county, or are over the age of 65 and can be excused from service. Such a mass summons was sent out of concern that selecting a jury might be difficult, given the nature of the high-profile case, as well as how long it is expected to last. Jury selection alone is expected to take four to six weeks. This week was orientation for the jurors in the larger ceremonial courtroom. Individual voir dire will begin next week in Manis’ regular courtroom, with jurors arriving in groups of 12. “My name is Stephanie Manis and I’ll be the judge in this case,” Manis told the assembled group Tuesday. “We are looking for 12 fair-minded jurors.” To that end, she said, jurors must fill out a lengthy questionnaire about themselves and their beliefs. She estimated it would take about an hour to fill out the form, adding that she and the lawyers had spent a long time working on it to make it “user-friendly.” She urged the potential jurors to take their time, adding that the questionnaire could save the lawyers from having to ask questions later during individual voir dire. The questionnaires will be kept confidential. And she urged them to take their job seriously and consider “what would you want if you or a loved one were a defendant or a victim. We want you to approach voir dire in the same way.” She took note of the high-profile nature of the case, saying that many of those present may have read about the case or have opinions. “The law does not presume a blank slate,” she said, adding that if that were the case, it would be nearly impossible to pick a jury. Instead, the law only requires that jurors agree to decide the case fairly, based on the law and the evidence, she said. A minimum of 42 jurors must be qualified before lawyers can select a 12-person jury since the defense has 20 peremptory strikes and the state has 10. Alternates require more qualified jurors be in the pool. Manis introduced court staffers to the group, including her law clerk, courtroom deputy and court reporter. Then the lawyers introduced themselves and their investigators and technical assistants, beginning with the prosecution team headed by Robert McBurney and ending with the defense team headed by John R. Martin. Martin had his client stand, saying, “We have the privilege and honor of representing the defendant Iman Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.” Al-Amin rose with his hand over his heart and bowed slightly, then took his seat. BOMB THREAT Thursday’s orientation session, however, was derailed temporarily by the bomb threat. Manis told the lawyers outside the presence of the jurors that “the record shows that these types of events happen with unfortunate frequency. Each event has to be evaluated on its own.” Martin, however, argued that Manis should dismiss that morning’s panel. “There are fears in this community due to the Sept. 11th events, and our client is Muslim,” he said. “This event was frightening due to its uncertainty.” He said he was concerned that jurors would draw unjustified inferences from the bomb scare. McBurney countered that the matter could be explored with those jurors during individual voir dire. “The problem with voir dire,” Martin protested, “is it puts us in an impossible situation. If we ask to inquire, we make a suggestion. If we do not ask, we don’t know.” Manis denied Martin’s motion. “I do not think we can excuse the jurors in this case,” she said. “I do not think that telephone calls should determine the court’s action.” She did agree to inform the jurors that the call was not to the court, but to the county building and that crank calls unfortunately do happen.

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