Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing
P.O. Box 120552 Nashville, TN 37212 615-329-0048 e-mail: [email protected]

Information on the case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman

On November 15th the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing co-sponsored an expert panel discussion at the University of Memphis entitled, "Executing the Mentally Ill." Attended by 174 people, the panel focused on three issues: how childhood abuse and brutalization at the hands of adult caregivers has catastrophic effects upon the victim; how such abuse is a predictor of adult violence if the victim does not receive early intervention and treatment; how the criminal justice system is a poor substitute for a mental healthcare delivery system particularly when its end product is an execution. Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman is Tennessee's next capital punishment target with an execution date of April 10, 2002. His story is illustrative of these policy issues. Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman is a 50-year old African American man who, if the State of Tennessee prevails, will become the first African American executed here in over 40 years.

As a child, Abu-Ali's father beat him regularly, forced him to strip naked and hung him by his penis in a dark closet for hours. His mother provided no protection or comfort and was also physically abusive. Both parents were alcoholic and promiscuous. Before Abu-Ali was born, his mother had abandoned three other children in the woods before they were rescued and placed in state custody. Abu-Ali attempted to flee his home beginning at the age of eight. He was forced to return again and again due to hunger and lack of shelter. From the time he was young, Abu-Ali would dissociate, so that his mind could "leave" the physical and mental torture he was forced to endure. This brutal treatment resulted in severe mental illness that is well documented in medical records.

On February 17, 1986, the Southeastern Gospel Ministry (SGM) decided to send Harold Devalle Miller and Abu- Ali, to visit a drug dealer named Patrick Daniels. Miller and Abu-Ali entered Daniels' apartment, armed with unloaded weapons provided by SGM leaders. The plan went terribly wrong and Daniels was stabbed several times with a knife from Daniels' kitchen. Harold Devalle Miller fled the state and was arrested a year later. Abu-Ali went home, went to bed, and later reported to work as usual.

Abu-Ali was arrested his first day at work two days after the murder. On the pants seized from Abu-Ali's apartment there appeared to be blood stains. The Detectives told Abu-Ali that they had found blood on his pants. Abu-Ali said that he remembered going to the apartment but could not remember anything that occurred inside. At this point, Abu-Ali began to bang his head on the desk, and then on the floor. He was placed in a padded cell with instructions to check him every half hour.

An SGM leader hired attorney Neil McAlpin to represent Abu-Ali. The DA's office provided McAlpin with reports from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab which stated conclusively that the clothes that Abu-Ali wore that night did not have blood on them and had never had blood on them. Another report concluded that Abu-Ali's fingerprints were not on the murder weapon, and witnesses said Abu-Ali wore no gloves that night.

As his investigation progressed, McAlpin quickly realized that the person who hired him was probably an accessory before and after the fact, and that he could not ethically represent Abu-Ali with such a conflict of interest. He removed himself from the case, but not before asking the court to have a psychiatric evaluation to assess Abu-Ali's obvious mental health problems. The same SGM leader arranged to hire criminal defense attorney Lionel Barrett through a third party. A fee of $15,000 was agreed upon, and a $5000 down payment was paid to Barrett, with the understanding that he would start working on the case as soon as he received the $10,000 balance. The balance was never paid.

During the nine months that Barrett represented Abu-Ali before his Capital Murder trial, no work was done on Abu-Ali's behalf until approximately two weeks before his trial. Barrett never talked to Neil McAlpin about Abu-Ali's case, and was unaware of the crime lab reports that no blood was on Abu-Ali's clothes, which indicated that Abu-Ali was not the assailant. Although the DA's office offered to make Barrett copies of all documents they had given to McAlpin, Barrett never took them up on their offer and went into trial unaware of their critical significance to his case.

Harold Devalle Miller was arrested in Pennsylvania approximately a year after Patrick Daniels was murdered. Faced with a Capital Murder charge himself, Miller implicated Abu-Ali as the assailant and agreed to testify against him in exchange for being allowed to plead to a lesser charge. Abu-Ali's attorney was ignorant about Miller's first statement to the District Attorney that was substantially different than his testimony.

Assistant District Attorney John Zimmerman acquired records relating to Abu-Ali's 1972 Second Degree Murder conviction. While he was in a youth facility, being small and light skinned, Abu-Ali became the victim of attacks by sexual predators. In an act of desperation, he killed the leader of the gang of predators who were preying on Abu-Ali. During preparation for his 1972 trial, Abu-Ali was psychiatrically evaluated and found to be "Schizoid" with "Borderline Personality Disorde." Assistant District Attorney Zimmerman had in his file the transcript of Abu-Ali's 1972 trial, in which both the defense psychiatrist and the prosecution's psychiatrist testified to symptoms of Abu-Ali's mental illnesses and his possible insanity at the time of that offense. Although he was legally obligated to turn this information over to the defense, he never did.

Assistant District Attorney Zimmerman presented the following scenario to the jury: Abu-Ali was a cold-blooded killer, who killed Daniels out of pure pleasure in an attempt to eliminate him as competition in a 'drug turf' war. The 1969 killing was described as another 'drug turf' killing that involved drug dealing prison gangs. Totally unprepared and ignorant of proof to the contrary, Abu-Ali's attorney put on no witnesses, and allowed this scenario to be presented to the jury uncontested. Abu-Ali was found guilty of Capital murder. In the sentencing hearing that followed immediately with the same jury, the defense put on two witnesses: Abu-Ali and his wife. Both were pitiful, unprepared disasters.

Since then, eight of the jurors in this case have signed affidavits expressing their outrage at the failure of Abu-Ali's defense attorney to present his case and at the prosecution for knowingly deceiving them and withholding crucial blood evidence and the history of mental illness. After a full hearing, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that Abu-Ali's attorney at trial was ineffective. Abu-Ali's Death Sentence was reversed. However, the Sixth Circuit Panel who reviewed the District Court Judge's ruling in Abu-Ali's favor reinstated the Death Sentence on grounds never raised by the Prosecution.

Since Abu-Ali's 1987 trial, he has been a model prisoner with an unblemished record. A number of guards and a former warden have stated in writing that Abu-Ali is a positive and stabilizing influence on death row. For several years Abu-Ali has been the elected representative of his fellow inmates to interface with the warden and the prison administration about matters of concern to the prison and the inmates. The warden has also selected Abu-Ali as the only inmate on death row to represent other inmates in disciplinary proceedings, a position of trust. Abu-Ali has received awards for his work on death row, and he has earned his G.E.D. degree and a paralegal degree, incredible accomplishments for someone housed on death row with virtually no prior formal education. Abu-Ali is a deeply spiritual person who, despite his mental illnesses and with no outside help, has worked hard to gain insight and to make his life worthwhile. He reaches out to the community and has always expressed his concerns for others who suffer from abuse, especially children. Over the past 14 years Abu-Ali has consistently behaved with dignity and grace. Abu-Ali never had his day in court. His voice has never been heard by those who have decided to put him to death. He is a person of value; and there would be no purpose, justice or dignity in his execution.

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