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Trial opens for former Black Panther

By
MIKE COOPER

ATLANTA, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin murdered a sheriff's deputy and wounded his partner as they tried to arrest him almost two years ago, the prosecution told jurors Tuesday as trial began for the Muslim cleric known as H. Rap Brown when he was a Black Panther in the 1960s.

Al-Amin, 58, is charged with killing Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding his partner, Deputy Aldranon English, in a March 16, 2000, shootout. English survived the shooting and will be a key prosecution witness in the trial, which is expected to last about five weeks.

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In her opening statement, Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Kellie Stevens said the two deputies approached the driver of a car that was parked in front of a small convenience store Al-Amin operated.

"They didn't know who the person was," Stevens said. "They didn't know he'd be armed."

"They asked to see his right hand. He looked Deputy English in the eye," she told jurors. "He showed him his right hand and in that right hand was a high-powered assault rifle. And he opened fire."

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Stevens said that after shooting English with the rifle, Al-Amin fired a 9mm handgun at Kinchen.

"The evidence will show that he took that 9mm, he pointed it at Deputy Kinchen," Stevens said. "Three rounds were fired directly between the legs of Deputy Kinchen."

Defense attorney Jack Martin told jurors that English, the surviving deputy, has given conflicting statements about the shootout. He also charged that prosecutors failed to pursue "valuable leads."

"They didn't follow-up. They didn't even go into the community," Martin said in his opening statement.

The two officers were trying to serve a warrant on Al-Amin on earlier charges of impersonating an officer, receiving stolen property and a traffic violation.

Al-Amin, who faces a total of 13 charges in connection with the shooting, was found in contempt of court on Jan. 7 for violating a gag order by conducting interviews from his jail cell and sending a seven-page letter to his congregation at The Community Mosque near downtown Atlanta.

It took more than five weeks to assemble what Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis called a racially skewed but legal jury of nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic. Six of the nine blacks are men, the rest of the jurors are women.

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Al-Amin was arrested four days after the shootings in White Hall, Ala. Authorities recovered a bullet-riddled Mercedes-Benz that matched English's description of the gunman's car. In nearby woods, they found a Ruger assault rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, which ballistic tests linked to the Kinchen shooting.

Supporters claim Al-Amin, known for his 1967 remark that "violence is as American as cherry pie," is a political prisoner who has been jailed because of his association with the militant Black Panther Party.

"He has languished in a jail cell for almost two years without being convicted of a crime," Peace and Justice Foundation operations director El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan said last month.

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