One Year After The Shooting
Al-Amin `resilient' as dream crumbles
by Mae Gentry, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 16 Mar 2001
A year ago today, Fulton County sheriff's deputies Ricky Kinchen and Aldranon English were serving the last warrant of their 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift. They were looking for Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, charged in Cobb County with failure to appear in court.
As they turned the corner of West End Avenue, a man standing beside a black Mercedes-Benz outside Al-Amin's store abruptly opened fire on them. Both deputies were hit.
"I've been shot. Officer down," English screamed into his radio over the sounds of gunshots.
Before help arrived, English told a dispatcher the shooter had driven away in the Mercedes. Both he and Kinchen, who lay bleeding in the street, said they had wounded the assailant. In the chaotic minutes that followed, a 911 caller reported seeing a man bleeding and begging for a ride five blocks away. Police swarming the area surrounded an abandoned house where fresh blood was found. No one was inside.
English was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and treated for wounds to both legs, his left arm and right chest. The next day, he picked Al-Amin out of a photo lineup as the man who shot him and Kinchen. English was released from the hospital within a week of the shooting.
Today, the 29-year-old English is back at work. As the prime witness in the state's case against Al-Amin, he is under a judge's order not to talk about the case. Capt. David Chadd, a spokesman for the Fulton County Sheriff's Department, confirmed English is working for the department but no longer serves warrants.
Kinchen, 35, who was shot several times with a .223-caliber rifle and a 9 mm handgun, died the next day. He was buried in his South Georgia hometown of Tifton. His widow has remained in the Atlanta area but moved out of the home they shared.
Four days after the shooting, Al-Amin was arrested in White Hall, Ala., midway between Montgomery and Selma. As an activist in the 1960s, the man born H. Rap Brown had registered voters there. As an Islamic imam, he had hoped to establish a $47 million, 100-acre Muslim enclave in the south-central Alabama town.
Police found a rifle and a handgun nearby, in the woods where Al-Amin was captured. Tests showed they were the same weapons used to shoot Kinchen. A bullet-riddled black Mercedes also was recovered.
White Hall came under intense scrutiny after Al-Amin's arrest. Among those investigated for allegedly helping him elude authorities were his Muslim followers and the town's mayor, John Jackson, who has known him since his activist days. Yearlong probes by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office have yielded no other arrests.
Today, the Muslim community that Al-Amin dreamed of has all but vanished.
"Things have returned to normal," said Lowndes County, Ala., Sheriff Willie Vaughner. "People rarely talk about it."
The only Muslims remaining in White Hall are Sharif Al-Malik and his family. They operated the Bismillah Cafe, but business was always bad. The restaurant's menu, which included goat burgers and whiting, was no competition for the place across the street that sold barbecue on weekends.
Bismillah sits abandoned now, a "for sale" sign posted in the yard. But Al-Malik, who works as a merchant in Montgomery and Selma, intends to stay in White Hall.
"I love it here, and I want to bring my children up in the country," he said. "We don't have a problem with anybody."
Relations between Muslims in Atlanta's West End and the Fulton County Sheriff's Department reportedly are tense. A few weeks ago, deputies came to arrest the son of a Muslim woman. The woman was home alone and wouldn't let them enter, according to Nadim Ali, a spokesman for Al-Amin's mosque.
The woman called 911. Atlanta police responded and told the Fulton deputies the woman's son already was in jail, said Ali. Sheriff Jackie Barrett could not be reached for comment.
Al-Amin's faith has been his bedrock, his brother said. Initially held in seclusion, he won the right to join Muslim inmates in a weekly religious service.
"Jamil has been quite resilient in the face of these difficulties," Ed Brown said. "He remains steadfast in his faith and steadfast in the fact of his own innocence."
Fulton Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis, who is hearing the case, has barred the defense and prosecution from talking to the media. She wants to prevent pretrial publicity from influencing potential jurors.
Early on, Brown said the media and law enforcement officials had acted with "the frenzy of a lynch mob" and made it difficult for Al-Amin to get a fair trial. Today, Brown is convinced his brother will be acquitted.
"For a lot of people, this case just doesn't make any sense," he said. "There are too many contradictory things. There are a lot of people who, as a result of the changing positions, recognize that we're about to send a man to death on the basis of misinformation, disinformation."
St. Claire Bourne, a New York filmmaker pitching an HBO project, said a lot of people believe Al-Amin is innocent. "If he is guilty of anything, it's going up against the established order," he said.
Al-Amin could go free if the jury believes the government is out to get him. "You only have to convince one juror that it's a conspiracy," said DeKalb County prosecutor J. Tom Morgan.
Passions may be further inflamed by the fact that the victims were police officers.
"When you have someone charged with slaying a member of the blue fraternity, everything is compounded," said Alabama lawyer J.L. Chestnut, who has known Al-Amin for years. "There are segments of the public who believe police can do no wrong, and there are other segments who believe they can do no right."
People familiar with the case anticipate a showdown between Al-Amin's court-appointed defense attorneys, Jack Martin and Bruce Harvey, and the prosecutors. They likely will face Thomas Robinson, a senior assistant district attorney, said Erik Friedly, a spokesman for District Attorney Paul Howard.
Questions at trial likely will touch on the blood trail, the fact that Al-Amin was not wounded, and possible misidentification. Al-Amin's attorneys will want to create reasonable doubt in the jury's mind.
"Jack is a technician and Bruce is as good a courtroom lawyer as you're going to see," said Steve Sadow, an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer. "That doesn't mean [the jury] won't convict him. That just means there's going to be one helluva fight."
Staff writers Ernie Suggs and Steve Visser contributed to this article.
© 2001 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.