Prosecution argues Al-Amin broke gag order
with letter to congregation
by Lateef Mungin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5 Jan 2002
Fulton County prosecutors are asking that Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin be held in contempt of court for writing a seven-page letter proclaiming his innocence.
In the letter, sent to his congregation at the Community Mosque of Atlanta on Dec. 14, Al-Amin said he did not fatally shoot Fulton County Deputy Sheriff Ricky Kinchen or wound his partner, Deputy Aldranon English, on March 16, 2000.
In the letter, Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown, also railed against the death penalty punishment he faces. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published portions of the letter Dec. 22.
"I am writing you from my cell in the Fulton County Jail where I reside, falsely imprisoned," Al-Amin wrote.
"I am falsely accused of shooting and injuring a Deputy Sheriff and denying another of his life. I am forced to suffer in silence without the benefit of declaring my own innocence . . ."
Fulton County prosecutors, in court papers filed this week, contend the letter violates a gag order that Superior Judge Stephanie Manis imposed in the case last May.
Erik Friedly, spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney's office, said the gag order applies to Al-Amin as well as to lawyers in the case.
Manis imposed the order at the request of Al-Amin's defense attorneys, who said the state attorney's office was leaking prejudicial information to the news media.
Jack Martin, one of Al-Amin's defense attorneys, said he cannot comment on the letter because of the gag order, but stated that he will fight the contempt motion in court.
Manis is expected to rule on the contempt motion during a pre-trial hearing Monday.
Some Atlanta criminal defense lawyers said it is unusual for a defendant who is facing the death penalty to be held in contempt of court.
The usual punishment for contempt of court is minimal jail time or an admonishment from the judge, said Drew Findling, an Atlanta defense lawyer and board member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"I've never heard of a case where a defendant in a death penalty case was found in contempt of court," said Findling. "The guy is in jail facing the death penalty. What could they possibly be seeking?"
Prosecutors did not specify the punishment they seek.
Howard Manchel, another Atlanta criminal attorney, said he thought Al-Amin had a right to proclaim his innocence. "I don't think the judge can silence a man from expressing his philosophical views to his religious congregation," said Manchel.
The letter was distributed to members of Al-Amin's mosque and was well received, said Nadim Ali, a spokesman for the West End mosque.
"Everybody was pleased to hear the imam [Al-Amin] speak in his own words," said Ali. "The letter was not to the public, it was to his religious community. How can he be held in contempt for that?"
© 2002 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.