ATLANTA -- Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the 1960s black-power activist formerly known as H. Rap Brown, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday for killing a deputy sheriff who tried to serve him a warrant two years ago.
Al-Amin, 58, a Muslim cleric who in recent years led programs to combat drugs and poverty in his West End neighborhood, showed no emotion when the punishment was read. Later he turned and greeted family members in the courtroom with a quick wave and smile. The prosecution had asked for the death penalty.
A generation ago, when Brown registered voters in Alabama and stirred a riotous crowd in Cambridge, Maryland, with the words, "If America don't come around, we will burn America down," a sentence such as Wednesday's might have been racially divisive. But Al-Amin's defense elicited little sympathy in the black community.
The indifference is a measure, at least in part, of the great changes that have swept over Atlanta since the turbulent 1960s. It is a city where the mayor, police chief, district attorney and county sheriff are black. The deputy Al-Amin killed was black. And the jury that convicted Al-Amin of murder last Saturday and rendered his sentence Wednesday was composed of nine blacks, two whites and one Latino.
Al-Amin did not testify in his own defense at the trial but 17 character witnesses, including former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, now 70 and a business consultant, and former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver, an Emory University law professor, spoke in his behalf.
Young, who said he knew Al-Amin before he converted to Islam in prison and changed his name, called the defendant a "peaceful man."
The murder occurred March 16, 2000, when deputies Ricky Kinchen, 35, and Aldranon English, 28, stopped Al-Amin near the West End grocery store he ran. The officers were trying to serve him with a warrant for missing a court date related to charges of receiving stolen property, driving without proof of insurance and impersonating a police officer.
English testified he told Al-Amin to put his right hand in view. The deputy went on: "He said, 'Yeah,' frowned and swung up an assault rifle and started shooting." English was wounded in his legs, left arm and chest. Kinchen was struck in the abdomen and died the next day.
Security was tight during Al-Amin's trial and sentencing, with at least half a dozen plain-clothes security officers in the courtroom watching the spectators, which included Kinchen's widow and family and members of the Islamic community.
Al-Amin, wearing spectacles and a cleric's white cap and robe, sat quietly and calmly throughout the trial, occasionally shaking his head at something a witness said.
The defense rested its case after only two days of testimony, surprising many who had expected numerous witnesses would be called to support Al-Amin's contention that he was a victim of mistaken identity.
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