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The trial in which Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was convicted of murdering a Fulton County, Ga., deputy sheriff and wounding another was not perfect, but it was sound enough to withstand the scrutiny of a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court. The justices on Monday affirmed Al-Amin’s 2002 convictions, rejecting more than a dozen of the former 1960s activist’s claims why he should win a reversal. The closest chance for Al-Amin came from the court’s agreement that a prosecutor violated Al-Amin’s right to remain silent by posing questions to him during the prosecution’s closing arguments. But the court found that Fulton Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis sufficiently cured the violation by telling jurors that Al-Amin was not required to testify, that the burden of proof was on the prosecution and that prosecutors were not allowed to comment on Al-Amin’s failure to testify. During the 1960s, Al-Amin was known as H. Rap Brown, a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers. He later became a prayer leader for an Atlanta Islamic congregation, Muslim Masjid. SENTENCED TO LIFE TERM In 2002, a jury convicted Al-Amin and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the murder of Fulton County Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of Deputy Aldranon English in a March 16, 2000, shoot-out in Atlanta’s West End. The officers had said Al-Amin started shooting at them when they came to his house to serve him with an arrest warrant from Cobb County. The warrant was for Al-Amin’s alleged failure to appear at an arraignment to answer charges of theft by receiving stolen property, impersonating an officer and operating a motor vehicle without insurance. Al-Amin was captured four days after the shootings in Whitehall, Ala., where officers said they found guns matching the bullets removed from Kinchen and English. Al-Amin’s car had bullets that matched the guns of the deputies, according to the court decision. JUROR SELECTION PROCESS UPHELD On appeal, the Supreme Court rejected arguments by Al-Amin that Fulton County’s process of picking grand juries — in which a computer picks potential members based on race, gender and age in order to ensure no group is under-represented — violated his rights to equal protection under the laws. The court agreed with Al-Amin’s lawyers that a Fulton County prosecutor violated Al-Amin’s right to remain silent when, during closing argument, the prosecutor conducted a mock interrogation of Al-Amin. Referring to Al-Amin’s capture in Whitehall, Ala., lead prosecutor Robert C. McBurney asked Al-Amin, “Mr. Defendant, how did those murder weapons get there to Whitehall? … How did your Mercedes get to Whitehall? … Did you drive it there?” Al-Amin’s lawyers objected and asked for a mistrial, but Manis denied their motion, asking the lawyers to propose an instruction for the jury that would cure McBurney’s violation. “The strength of evidence against Al-Amin coupled with the contemporaneous curative instruction leads this Court to conclude that the violation here was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote Justice Hugh P. Thompson for the court. Al-Amin v. State, No. S04A0151 (Sup. Ct. Ga., May 24, 2004). McBurney, now a prosecutor with the Atlanta U.S. Attorney’s Office, conceded that his tactic of posing questions to Al-Amin was wrong. “It was perhaps an inartful way of saying ‘[Al-Amin has] no alibi,’ ” McBurney said. MARTIN: MISCONDUCT REWARDED John R. Martin, Al-Amin’s lead defense lawyer, said the Supreme Court too often rewards prosecutors’ misconduct by finding their errors to be harmless. “Prosecutors keep on doing it,” he said, because the Supreme Court does not punish the prosecutors enough. Martin added that the court did not take into account evidence that pointed to Al-Amin’s innocence: “They don’t even mention it.” Calls seeking comment from Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. were unsuccessful.

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