ATLANTA, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Former Black Panther Jamil Abdullah al Amin was cited for contempt of court on Monday for violating a gag order in his trial this week on charges of murdering a police officer and shooting a deputy almost two years ago.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis said al Amin, known as H. Rap Brown when he was a black activist in the 1960s, violated the gag order by proclaiming his innocence in a telephone interview with the New York Times and in a letter he sent to members of his mosque last month.
"He can profess his innocence, but in the courtroom, not in the newspaper," Manis said. She said al Amin's actions may make it more difficult to find an impartial jury for his capital murder trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
The judge said al Amin would no longer be allowed to mail letters or make telephone calls from his jail cell until a jury has been seated for his trial. She also said he would not be allowed to have visitors other than his attorneys until a jury has been chosen.
About 1,500 potential jurors have been summoned, about three times the usual number for a criminal case. Security has been tightened for al Amin's trial, though officials declined to detail what steps are being taken.
In an interview published by the New York Times on Sunday, al Amin said he is being prosecuted because, as a Muslim cleric, he is a threat to the federal government and black political and law enforcement leaders.
"They still fear a personality, a character coming up among African Americans who could galvanize support among all the different elements of the African-American community," he told the newspaper, which interviewed him on a jail pay telephone.
Judge Manis imposed a gag order last May barring all public comment by participants in al Amin's trial. Al Amin was scheduled to go on trial on Sept. 12, 2001, but the judge delayed his trial because of concern that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would make it difficult for a Muslim to get a fair trial.
Al Amin is charged with the shooting death of Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of his partner, Deputy Aldranon English, on March 16, 2000. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The officers were trying to serve an arrest warrant on al Amin that alleged he failed to appear in court on charges of theft by receiving a stolen car, impersonating an officer and having no proof of insurance.
Al Amin was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for inciting a riot in 1967 in Maryland. He served three years in federal prison for shooting at police during an armed robbery in 1973.