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Opening statements in the Atlanta death penalty murder trial of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin were at times more like closings, with touches of drama and a good bit of argument. And before they were over, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis had rebuked a defense lawyer for playing the race card. Manis interrupted defense lawyer John R. Martin’s talk to the jury, sent thepanel out, and told Martin to stick to the facts, not suspicions or racialreferences. Opening statements began Tuesday morning before a near-capacity audience inFulton Superior Court. Al-Amin, a Muslim cleric once known as H. Rap Brown, is charged with the March 16, 2000, murder of 35-year-old Fulton Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the shooting and wounding of a second deputy, Aldranon English. The two were trying to arrest Al-Amin on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court in Cobb County. Al-Amin, an activist during the 1960s with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and, briefly, the Black Panther Party, has deniedinvolvement in the shooting. Many of his supporters claim he is the victim of a government frame-up meant to punish him for his political beliefs. However, Al-Amin’s past political involvement drew only a passing remark during two hours of opening statements. The prosecution emphasized the wounded deputy’s identification of Al-Amin in its opening statement while the defense focused on inconsistencies in thedeputy’s account. PROSECUTOR’S RE-ENACTMENT Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney Kellie L. Stevens began her remarksby re-enacting the cries of wounded Deputy English as he sought cover from his assailant. “Please don’t shoot me anymore!” he pleaded, according to Stevens. English’s partner, Kinchen, Stevens continued, lay on his back helpless after being hit in the abdomen with what would be a fatal wound from an assault rifle. Al-Amin, she told the jury, stood over the deputy and pointed a .9 mm handgun at him. “He pumped three more rounds into Deputy Kinchen directly between the legs. He shot him in his testicles.” Stevens said the search for the killer was a good investigation, but not aperfect one, because of communications problems and confusion that night atthe crime scene. Blood drops found a block and a half away from the shooting”became a blood trail,” although the blood later turned out not to be humanblood. Investigators mistakenly became convinced that the assailant had been shot, she told the jury. Those problems, however, don’t change the fact that English identified Al-Amin as the killer, she said. “That identification,” she added, “is totallysupported and corroborated by the physical evidence.” Stevens also said that during Al-Amin’s arrest in White Hall, Ala., “something happened out there that never should have happened.” An FBI agent, she said, called Al-Amin a “cop-killer,” kicked him and spit on him as the defendant lay handcuffed on the ground. Stevens said the incident was “reprehensible” and that the FBI had conducted an investigation. At that point, Martin objected, telling Manis that Stevens’ remark about aninvestigation was “beyond the realm of admissible evidence” and that he hadnever been given the result of any investigation. Stevens said she only intended to say that an investigation occurred, not what the results were. Martin interrupted her again when she urged the predominantly black jury tomake its decision based on the evidence, “not based on race, not based onreligion, not based on far-reaching theories about the government.”"This is opening statement, your honor,” Martin protested. Manis overrruled the objection. ‘TRUTH IN THIS CASE’ Martin’s opening statement was animated and he frequently injected his opinion on the evidence. He began by telling jurors that “The simple truth in this case is that Jamil Al-Amin is not guilty.” Investigators that night in Atlanta’s West End, he said, made a fundamentalmistake: “Within minutes, everybody concluded Jamil Al-Amin must be guilty.”Martin said investigators ignored inconsistencies in the evidence and failedto follow important leads. “They stopped thinking. They stopped looking. They stopped questioning,” he said. Martin called parts of the state’s version of the shooting believable and other parts, “hard to believe.” He said the evidence against his client had glaring inconsistencies, such asstatements from both Kinchen, prior to his death, and English, that they were certain they had shot their assailant. Al-Amin was arrested days after the shooting with no wounds. Martin also said that English’s identification of Al-Amin was flawed. English claimed he had seen the shooter clearly and described him as having cold gray eyes. Al-Amin’s eyes are brown. English said Al-Amin fled the shooting scene in his black Mercedes, while area residents reported seeing a man flee on foot through the neighborhood.Martin made his points using large, color charts detailing the crime scene,the locations of bullet casings, houses, street lights and vehicles.Police, Martin said, “closed their case. As they closed their case, theyclosed their eyes, they closed their ears, they closed their minds.” INTERRUPTIONS FROM THE BENCH Martin drew a couple of objections from prosecutors for arguing rather thanstating what he believed the evidence would show. And Manis interrupted himtwice. Martin had just described how the FBI agent, after Al-Amin’s Alabama arrest,had cursed at, kicked and spat on the defendant. He noted that all members of the federal law enforcement team, with one exception, were white, while the local sheriff and deputy were black. He then said until Stevens mentioned it, he had never heard of the FBI reports on the incident. Manis broke in. If that subject were to come up, she said, it would come up at the proper time during trial. Martin continued by saying that every white person present during the Alabama incident denied that it occurred, while the blacks said it had occurred. “If they’re willing to lie like that …” Martin began. “Mr. Martin,” Manis interrupted. She sent the jury out. Lead prosecutor Robert C. McBurney rose to object. McBurney said Martin wasaware of the investigation because an FBI investigator had asked to interview Al-Amin. Martin, he added, was “straying again into argument and race-baiting.” Manis said she didn’t like his remark about people being willing to lie after his use of “a series of racial references.” She told him he needed to stick to facts, not suspicions and to “stay away from racial references.”When the jurors returned, Martin simply urged them to “think about who admits it happened; who doesn’t.” He ran into trouble again later when he told the jury that the charges against Al-Amin require that he be a participant in the crimes. “You can’t convict him for knowing someone who did it,” he said. His remarks seemed to be laying the foundation for a defense that someoneother than Al-Amin did the shooting, but Al-Amin may have been present at the time or known the shooter. Regardless of their meaning, they drew an objection from Stevens, sustained by Manis. Martin protested briefly that he had only mentioned a legal defense thatjurors could consider. Manis also quickly vetoed a request from the defense that she instruct theprosecution team not to rise to their feet each time the jury comes into thecourtroom or leaves. Neither Al-Amin nor his defense lawyers rise when the jury enters or exits the courtroom. Martin said his client remains seated because of his Muslim faith. “He does not believe that he should rise for any earthly person,” Martin said. Martin said that when prosecutors stand up, they are “playing to the jury” and “currying favor” with jurors. He asked her to stop prosecutors from standing for the jury’s entrances and exits, adding that the state’s actions might leave the jury with a bad impression of the defense. Without asking for comment from prosecutors, Manis said, “Your request isdenied. We’re not Muslims; Mr. Al-Amin is.” He is free to sit, she said,adding that when a juror had commented on that during voir dire, she had asked Martin if he wanted jurors told why his client remains seated, and he had declined. “I believe it’s proper” to rise for the jury, Manis said, adding that shewouldn’t make prosecutors change their conduct to accommodate the defendant.

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