Justices Decline to Revisit Case Involving 60s Black Militant

April 6, 2020 by Dan McCue
H. Rap. Brown, who now goes by the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, watches during the sentencing portion of his trial in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court did not add any new cases to its docket Monday morning, declining, among other things, to revisit the murder conviction of the 1960s black militant formerly known as H. Rap Brown.

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he rose to fame in the 1960s as a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and during a short-lived alliance between the committee and the Black Panther Party, he served as their minister of justice.

Among his proclamations at the time was “violence is as American as cherry pie.”

The 76-year-old Brown converted to Islam following his 1960s heyday, taking the name Jamil Al-Amin and became an active religious leader in the Atlanta area.

In 2002, he was convicted of murder in the death of Fulton County sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of Kinchen’s partner, Deputy Aldranon English. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Character witnesses during the sentencing portion of his trial included former Atlanta mayor, U.N. ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young, who had met Brown in the 1980s.

“He was — and is — a very peaceful man,” Young said. “I saw no trace of any of the reported anger.”

Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but jurors chose life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Al-Amin has long argued the prosecutor of his case violated his right not to testify by directly questioning him during closing arguments in a sort of mock cross-examination.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor displayed a chart titled “Questions for the defendant” and asked “pointed questions” meant to focus the jury’s attention on the fact that Al-Amin didn’t testify, his lawyers argued.

Al-Amin also had court permission to remain seated during the trial for religious reasons, including not standing when the jury entered. The prosecutor implored the jury, “Don’t stand for him.”

The defense objected to the prosecutor’s actions, and the trial judge gave the jury instructions meant to neutralize any harm caused by the prosecutor’s statements.

In September 2017, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg found that Brown’s constitutional right not to testify was in fact violated by the prosecutor’s questioning.

She also found that the trial court’s attempt to mitigate the prosecutor’s violation was insufficient and may have actually been harmful.

But at the end of the day, she wrote, “there is ‘weighty’ evidence supporting his conviction.”

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta later affirmed Totenberg’s ruling.

As is their custom, the Justices of the Supreme Court did not explain why they turned down Al-Amin’s case.

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