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Former 1960s black radical faces murder trial

Al-Amin at a court appearance in May 2000.  

Christy Oglesby

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Even with the blood trail, unrelated recanted confession and tainted evidence, the Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin case could pass for just another trial of an accused cop killer.

But add claims of a government grudge that generated 44,000 FBI documents and the criminal history of a 1960s black radical who retired riot rhetoric to preach peace, and it starts to take a different shape.

Disclose that the defendant is a Muslim standing trial after a terrorist attack that vilified Islam and exalted civil servants, and it becomes a case like no other.

The clerk of the Atlanta court where Al-Amin -- a former Black Panther who once went by the name H. Rap Brown -- will stand trial summoned 1,500 potential jurors. The pool size was necessary to find 12 impartial people who would consider rejecting a death sentence if they reached a guilty verdict.

Take No. 5, who couldn't get past the concept of capital punishment. The judge asked a potential juror three times whether a life sentence would be considered over a death sentence. "I don't know," the potential juror responded. "My first reaction would just be the death penalty."

Seating a jury has proven difficult. But Tuesday the judge is expected to gavel the trial into session.

The state's case

CNN's Brian Cabell examines the life and politics of former 1960s black radical H. Rap Brown, now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (February 18)

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A gag order prohibits those involved in the murder case from discussing it now, but court records and newspaper reports reveal the following:

On March 16, 2000, two Fulton County deputies went to Al-Amin's West Atlanta store to serve an arrest warrant to him.

The warrant was for Al-Amin's failure to appear in court on theft by receiving stolen property charges of impersonating an officer.

The deputies exchanged gunfire with a man standing near a black Mercedes Benz, and a spokesman on that day said the deputies might have wounded the shooter.

One deputy, Ricky Kinchen, died the next day. The surviving officer identified Al-Amin as the shooter.

SWAT teams, helicopters and search dogs joined in a hunt that started with a blood trail. After entering a vacant house where police thought they'd cornered the shooter, they found more signs that the officers assailant may have been wounded.

Four days later, authorities arrested Al-Amin in Lowndes County, Alabama, 175 miles southwest of Atlanta. He was not wounded.

Police also found a rifle and handgun near his arrest location, and tests indicated they were the weapons that wounded Kinchen, a local newspaper reported. Ten days later, they also found a black Mercedes with bullet holes in it.

Three months later, an Atlanta fugitive captured in Nevada confessed to killing Kinchen. He later recanted that statement.

A Panther's past

Born Hubert Gerold Brown in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the accused went by the name H. Rap Brown during the 1960s and served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In 1967, he was charged with inciting a riot in Cambridge, Maryland, where he declared to hundreds of African-Americans: "It's time for Cambridge to explode, baby. Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down."

The next morning, a school and two city blocks burned.

He later joined the Black Panther Party, which sought to empower African-Americans and confront and conquer social injustices. At one point he was minister of justice for the Panthers.

As a Panther, Al-Amin exhorted African-Americans to arm themselves.

"I say violence is necessary," he once famously said. "It is as American as cherry pie."

The Black Panther Party collapsed in the late 1970s, brought down by deaths, defections and infighting.

Al-Amin, 58, converted to Islam while in prison serving five years for his role in a robbery that ended in a shootout with New York police.

Until his arrest, Al-Amin operated the small grocery in Atlanta's West End and was the spiritual leader of a mosque in the neighborhood.

Neighbors credited Al-Amin, whom friends described as a humble and respectful man, for working to clean up drugs and prostitution in the low-income West End.

Conspiracy claims

Al-Amin and his followers contend the state's case is bogus, and represents the U.S. government's latest attempt to destroy the Muslim cleric.

With the gag order, Ed Brown, Al-Amin's brother, serves as spokesman for the family.

"This [murder arrest] is part of a pattern that has gone on for 35 years," Brown said. "It started with his civil rights efforts and now it's Islam. Anything that shines a light on the corruption of this government or does not contribute to its process of corruption, they are opposed to."

The government has cooked up a case against his brother, destroying evidence, Brown continued.

"Both officers said they wounded the perpetrator. It was reported there was a blood trail. They got a search warrant and mobilized the SWAT team based on the blood trail," he said.

"But then when they arrested him and he wasn't wounded, they stopped talking about it."

Al-Amin's dealings with authorities did not end when he converted to Islam, records show. In 1995, he was accused of aggravated assault, but the victim later recanted and said authorities pressured him to identify Al-Amin as the perpetrator.

From 1992 to 1997 the FBI staked out Al-Amin, suspecting him of gunrunning. The agency generated 44,000 documents, records indicate, but failed to produce an arrest or indictment.

"What explanation do they have for watching him?" Ed Brown asked. "They were so obsessed."

Now, Al-Amin faces the death penalty if convicted. Brown said Al-Amin's death is what law enforcement has sought for years.

"This is a very unforgiving country when you show this country its warts, when you hold the mirror up," Brown said. "If you happen not to share their beliefs, they'll kill you."


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