Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown, in front of his West End Community grocery store on Oak Street in 1990. (Kathryn Kolb/AJC file photo)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

OPINION: Why Andy Young seeks mercy for convicted killer Jamil Al-Amin

Andrew Young is a national treasure located here in our backyard.

The civil rights hero/ambassador/mayor has for decades captivated crowds with homilies that resemble unfamiliar mountain roads — curvy and circuitous and leaving you with no idea of the ultimate destination.

He delivered such an oratory last week at Tyler Perry’s studio during an event to commemorate the Fulton County district attorney’s new Conviction Integrity Unit. The goal of the unit is to help free the wrongfully convicted or help shorten inordinately long prison sentences. The event featured some innocent men who had been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

Young was his old raconteur self, talking about justice, race, the causes of crime, the cost of prisons, Martin Luther King Jr., German Shepherds and then, finally, about a case “that weighs heavy on my heart because I really think he was wrongfully convicted.”

Young said the man, a Muslim, had helped “clean up” Atlanta’s West End.

“I’m talking about Jamil Al-Amin,” he said, “H. Rap Brown.”

“I think it’s time to rejudge,” said Young. “He’s been dying of cancer and has been suffering away from his family in the worst prisons of this nation.”

He turned to those in the new unit and said, “Anything you can do, even bring him home to be close to his family and friends,” before concluding with, “We must stand for justice, but we must never forget mercy.”

Former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young testifies in the penalty phase of the Jamil Al-Amin murder trial in 2002 in Fulton County Superior Court. Young recounted getting to know Al-Amin in the 1980s when Young’s daughter moved to a West End neighborhood near Al-Amin’s store. (Kimberly Smith/AJC file photo)
Photo: Kimberly Smith/AJC file

That’s also what Young said in 2002 as a character witness in the murder trial of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. People at the trial say Young’s testimony in the sentencing phase helped Al-Amin escape the death penalty.

Al-Amin was convicted of wounding Deputy Aldranon English and killing Deputy Ricky Kinchen, firing three shots with a semiautomatic rifle into Kinchen’s groin as he lay wounded on the ground. The deputies on that fatal night of March 16, 2000, were trying to serve a warrant on Al-Amin in connection with a stolen car.

Undated photo of Deputy Ricky L. Kinchen, who was fatally shot on March 16, 2000, while attempting to serve a warrant to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The case has been grist for conspiracy theorists — that Al-Amin, a strong black man who had stood up to the government for decades, was being muzzled. Al-Amin was formerly H. Rap Brown, the young 1960s’ civil rights activist turned militant famously quoted saying, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.”

Al-Amin became a Muslim in prison after getting wounded in a 1971 shootout with New York cops. He moved to Atlanta in 1976 and settled in the West End, where he became an imam and fostered a Muslim community.

It’s often said he kept the impoverished neighborhood safe. But you don’t run off drug dealers by simply praying them away.

In 1995, he told the AJC that Muslims were “pushing back the other lifestyles” in the neighborhood. At night, “we do have brothers walking the neighborhood for security,” he said.

Police and the FBI believed it was more than just security details. During the 1990s, they investigated him in connection with everything from gun-running to domestic terrorism to 14 homicides in the West End. They never hooked anything on him.

Black Power militant H. Rap Brown is returned to New Orleans by federal agents in February 1968. (Photo credit: Associated Press)
Photo: The Associated Press

In 1995, a 22-year-old got shot in the leg at West End Park, which is across from the small grocery store Al-Amin ran. The cops said the man implicated Al-Amin and got a visit from the cleric after returning home from the hospital.

“Sorry this thing happened to you, little brother, but if it had been me doing the shooting, you’d be dead,” the man quoted Al-Amin as saying in a police report.

The man backed off his ID and insisted the cops pressured him to finger Al-Amin, who faded from notoriety until March 2000, when the shootout occurred.

The trial was postponed until 2002 because of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The defense poked holes in the prosecution, pointing out that both English and Kinchen said they wounded their attacker, but Al-Amin was unhurt when captured days later. They said an FBI agent who spit at and kicked a handcuffed Al-Amin could have planted the guns near the fugitive during his arrest in Alabama. They said English insisted his attacker had “gray” eyes. Al-Amin’s eyes are brown.

But an emotional English was unequivocal that it was Al-Amin. And his Mercedes, found in Alabama, had bullet holes matching those from the deputies’ guns.

Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Aldranon English breaks down as he recalls being shot when he and partner Richard Kinchen went out to serve a warrant on Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin on March 16, 2000. Photographed in Fulton Superior Court in downtown Atlanta on Feb. 19, 2002. (Bita Honarvar/AJC file photo)
Photo: Bita Honarvar/AJC file

A jury consisting of nine blacks, two whites and a Hispanic took 10 hours to find him guilty on all counts. “The defense case did not have any meat,” a juror told the AJC. “Unless you were very biased, you could never believe the conspiracy theory.”

In 2007, Al-Amin was moved from state prison to the feds’ Supermax prison in Colorado. State officials feared Al-Amin’s leadership skills, worrying he’d radicalize fellow prisoners.

Since then, a team of lawyers from Kilpatrick Stockton, appointed by the courts, have appealed and lost in the Georgia Supreme Court, federal court and federal appeals court, and now have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The state has to respond next month.

The main point being argued is that a young hotshot Fulton prosecutor performed a “mock cross-examination” of Al-Amin during closing arguments. “Why would the FBI care enough to frame you? How did the murder weapons end up in (Alabama)? How did your Mercedes get shot up? Why did you flee?”

The courts have all ruled that the prosecutor — who is now Fulton’s chief judge, Robert McBurney — crossed the line in attacking Al-Amin’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself. But they’ve also all ruled there was enough evidence to put Al-Amin in a cell for the rest of his breathing days.

Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said in a statement that Young’s comments were a “call for mercy” for a dying man, but not an “official request … that would be consistent with the mission of the FCDA Conviction Integrity Unit.”

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin spends a moment with his son Kairi while his lawyers pack up after jury selection for his murder trial in Fulton County Superior Court on Feb. 18, 2002. (PHIL SKINNER /AJC file photo)
Photo: PHIL SKINNER /AJC file

Al-Amin’s son, Kairi, a lawyer himself, told me his father is blind and fighting cancer in a federal prison hospital in Tucson, Arizona. The court battles have been frustrating, he said, adding, “We will have to take this to the court of public appeal.”

I was unable to get a hold of Deputy Kinchen’s brother to capture his opinion.

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