The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 1.06.2002]
Al-Amin held in contempt for interviews
By LATEEF MUNGIN and ALAN JUDD
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin acknowledges a member of the courtroom gallery during
a pre-trial hearing in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta Monday.
A Fulton Superior Court judge today found Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin in contempt of court for interviews published in news outlets, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Judge Stephanie Manis said the Muslim cleric, who faces capital murder charges in the death of a Fulton County deputy and the wounding of another deputy nearly two years ago, would not be allowed to make telephone calls from jail, mail any letters or have any visitors other than his lawyers until jury selection is completed.
"I think the comments of the defendant may taint the jury pool," the judge said.
The New York Times on Sunday published portions of a telephone interview with Al-Amin. In December, the Journal-Constitution published portions of a letter Al-Amin had written to members of his mosque. In the letter, the cleric proclaimed his innocence.
The judge said the timing of Al-Amin's public statements appeared aimed at prejudicing jurors.
"He can profess his innocence, but in the courtroom, not in the newspaper," the judge said.
In the Times interview, Al-Amin was quoted as strongly criticizing the judge's gag order and attributing charges against him to a government conspiracy dating to his days as the 1960s black activist H. Rap Brown.
"I can't even say I'm innocent," Al-Amin complained in the telephone interview with the Times, published in Sunday's editions. "Do you know of any other defendant who is not allowed to say he is innocent? It's just part of the same continual persecution and prosecution against me, just part and parcel of the same thing."
Al-Amin's comments seemed to defy an order by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis, who has barred all public comment by participants in the Muslim cleric's case. Al-Amin is charged with the March 2000 slaying of Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen, 35, and the wounding of his partner, Deputy Aldranon English, then 28. The officers were shot as they tried to serve a warrant on Al-Amin.
Pretrial hearings are scheduled today, and jury selection begins Tuesday.
Al-Amin's interview with The Times -- conducted over a pay telephone at the Fulton County Jail -- echoed a seven-page letter he sent to his congregation at Atlanta Community Mosque in West End.
After portions of the letter were quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, prosecutors asked Manis to hold Al-Amin in contempt of court.
Prosecutors have not specified the punishment they will seek.
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.
Bruce Harvey, one of Al-Amin's lawyers, declined to comment Sunday, citing the gag order. Efforts to reach prosecutors were unsuccessful.
In the interview, Al-Amin claimed he was targeted by authorities because of his embrace of Islam.
"They are trying to crush Islam before it realizes its own worth and strength," Al-Amin said.
"We are the biggest gang on the planet, and when you hear them talk about the 'crusade,' you know what they are talking about."
He suggested the murder charge was part of a continuum of persecution that began in the 1960s.
"The FBI has a file on me containing 40,000 documents, but prior to this incident, their investigation has produced no fruits, no indictments, no arrests," he said.
"At some point, they had to make something happen to justify all the investigations and all the money they've spent.
"More than anything else, 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."
Security will be tight as the trial gets under way this week. About 1,500 prospective jurors have been summoned, and the case is expected to bring legions of onlookers. Among them will be Al-Amin's followers from his mosque, numerous law enforcement officers and 10 to 15 members of Kinchen's family.
"This trial is a piece of history in the making," said Jim Hickey, a filmmaker from Decatur, who said he plans to document the trial. "I don't know if Jamil is guilty or innocent, but I do know that there has been a history of government surveillance on him. I think it is important for people to witness the trial and make sure it is fair."
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