The Case of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin
By Karima Al-Amin
In January 2002, the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia summoned a jury pool of approximately 1500 residents of the county to be considered to serve as jurors in the case against Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Charged with 13 counts, including the murder of one Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy and the wounding of another deputy on the evening of March 16, 2000, Imam Jamil retained a team of four attorneys to present his defense.
On March 9, 2002, after three weeks of hearing prosecution and defense witnesses, the jury in the case of the State of Georgia v. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin rendered a guilty decision on all 13 charges against Imam Jamil. This verdict was a shocking announcement to the hundreds of supporters who observed the court proceedings on a daily basis. The unfair verdict prompted Imam Jamil’s brother to state: “We are gravely disappointed in the jury’s decision in my brother’s trial. We can’t understand how they could fail to see the contradictions in this case. The decision will most definitely be appealed. Our job now is to save Jamil’s life.”
The jury of nine African Americans, two Caucasians, and one Hispanic took less than 10 hours to reach its verdict in the three-week trial. The sentencing phase began on March 11, 2002, with relatives of the deputies reading victim impact statements. For three days, Imam Jamil’s defense team called 20 character witnesses, including former Mayor and Ambassador Andrew Young, and Imam William Abdur-Rahim, the presiding head of the local Council of Imams, and father of then Atlanta Hawks star Shareef Abdur-Rahim. On March 14, 2002, the same jury that found Imam Jamil guilty of all 13 counts of the indictment, pronounced the sentence of life without the possibility of parole on the murder and felony murder counts. In addition, the presiding judge imposed an additional 30 years to the sentence as punishment on the remaining 11 counts. The jury declined to pronounce the death penalty.
- Prosecution almost systematically eliminated older African American women who could have been expected to have some knowledge of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which targeted African American leaders.
- Deputies stated that one or even both had shot the assailant.
- The surviving deputy was emphatic when describing the assailant as having gray eyes—the Imam’s eyes are brown.
- The crime scene contained blood on the street and in a neighboring abandoned house, however the blood was discounted.
- The deputies offered conflicting accounts of the description of the assailant and clothing worn—the descriptions did not match the Imam.
- Testimony of 911 tapes confirming reports of a wounded person in the area of the Imam’s store on the night of the shooting was not admitted into evidence.
- The Imam’s fingerprints were not found on any firearm associated with the crime.
- Pieces of evidence relating to the sheriff’s vehicle were either lost or destroyed prior to court proceedings.
- FBI agent Ron Campbell admitted at trial, and nearly two years after the incident, that he kicked and spat on the Imam as he was handcuffed on the ground in White Hall, Alabama. Three U.S. Marshals and Ron Campbell claimed the individual who ran into the woods in White Hall, Alabama, shot at them, although local residents testified for the defense that the Marshals were the individuals who fired shots into the woods.
- Evidence that an individual, Otis Jackson, confessed to be the shooter on the evening of March 16, 2000, was never introduced at trial by the prosecution or defense—Otis Jackson continues to maintain that he was the assailant.
There is consensus that Imam Jamil was convicted well before the jury announced its verdict. Contradictions highlighted during the trial and comments made by the prosecution smacked at First Amendment rights. Moreover, Imam Jamil’s history as a civil/human rights leader at the time of the trial spanned nearly 35 years of governmental surveillance and harassment.
Status of Appeal
Imam Jamil’s convictions were affirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court on May 24, 2004. A timely Motion for Reconsideration was filed on June 3, 2004. It was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court on June 28, 2004. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed that the prosecution committed a grave constitutional error in its closing argument when the assistant district attorney directed jurors to consider questions pertaining to the failure of Imam Jamil to present testimony or evidence. Nevertheless, the Georgia Supreme Court would not reverse the convictions.
By September 27, 2004, Imam Jamil filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court; however during its October 2004 calendar, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari.
The appeals process is not over because post-conviction remedies are available. The next step is for Imam Jamil to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under Georgia law in the Superior Court of the county where he is incarcerated. Imam Jamil also can file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, and he can be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and could have another opportunity to file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
Imam Jamil currently is being held in the Georgia State Prison, in Reidsville, Georgia. He is being held under orders of a 24-hour lockdown, with a one-hour period daily for “exercise” alone in a small walking yard. Although his record does not indicate institutional behavioral problems, the Georgia Department of Corrections has isolated Imam Jamil by labeling him a “threat” to the institution.
Imam Jamil’s case stands alongside that of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Realizing the similarity between Imam Jamil’s case and his own, Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote the following words before the start of Imam Jamil’s trial:
“The struggle for the freedom and liberty of Atlanta Muslim leader Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin must take place now, before the cold fingers of the state can close around his neck…Al-Amin’s freedom lies in people who express their support NOW instead of later. Fairness does not lie in reversing an unjust conviction; rather it lies in preventing one in the first place.”
On March 11, 2002, two days after the jury announced the guilty verdict, the National Support Committee for Imam Jamil Al-Amin, consisting of major Muslim organizations, issued a statement:
“We do not believe the facts presented in court warranted a guilty verdict against Imam Jamil. His defense team offered credible evidence indicating that he was not the person who shot the deputies. We believe Imam Jamil will be exonerated on appeal…The American Muslim community and its leadership will continue to support the cause of justice in this case and will work to ensure that Imam Jamil is able to exercise all the rights he is entitled to under the law...”
It is not too late to show support and to continue the challenge to exonerate Imam Jamil. Funds are needed to continue the legal fight. Contributions may be forwarded to:
The Justice Fund
P.O. Box 93963
Atlanta, Georgia 30377
For more information, contact (404) 876-5008.
Karima Al-Amin is an attorney in Atlanta, GA, Board member of The Justice Fund and wife of Imam Jamil Al-Amin.