Nashville Prosecutors Reconsider Death Penalty For Condemned Man | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Prosecutors Reconsider Death Penalty For Condemned Man

Aug 28, 2019

A Nashville death row inmate scheduled for execution next April might be spared.

District Attorney Glenn Funk is offering Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman a new sentence of life in prison. Now, it's up to a judge to decide if he'll allow the deal to go through.

At a hearing Wednesday morning, Abdur'Rahman's lawyer argued his client didn't get a fair trial in 1987 for his role in an armed robbery that left one person dead and another wounded. Abdur'Rahman claims the assistant district attorney who tried his case was racially biased when he struck multiple potential black jurors from participating in the trial.

"The misconduct in this case was the doing of a rogue prosecutor. It was not the policy of that office to commit this kind of misconduct," said Bradley MacLean, Abdur'Rahman's attorney. "But the harm done by ADA [John] Zimmerman's egregious misconduct was deep and profound. He harmed the integrity of the trial."

Funk says there's enough doubt surrounding the death sentence in this case to throw it out.

"Overt racial bias has no place in the justice system," Funk said in court. "Further, and most importantly, the pursuit of justice is incompatibale with deception. Prosecutors must never be dishonest to or mislead defense attorneys, courts or juries."

Abdur'Rahman's hearing comes on the heels of a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a Mississippi inmate's murder conviction because of racial discrimination during jury selection. In June, seven justices voted to reverse the conviction of Curtis Flowers, the subject of popular true crime podcast In The Dark, who has been tried six times on the same charges by a white district attorney who has repeatedly blocked black jurors.

But Funk did not ask the judge to vacate Abdur'Rahman's conviction. At the hearing, he noted the gruesome details of the stabbing that resulted in his murder conviction. Funk said Abdur'Rahman and an accomplice bound Patrick Daniels and Norma Jean Norman and stabbed them while Ms. Norman's young daughter's listened in another room.

"Today's hearing is not about an innocent man," he said. "Mr. Abdur'Rahman was a participant in a murder, an assault with intent to commit murder and an armed robbery."

Funk submitted an order to the judge that would overturn Abdur'Rahman's death sentence. But Abdur'Rahman would waive his right to a new trial or any future appeals and spend the rest of his life in prison.

Abdur'Rahman has agreed to the deal. The district attorney says it also reflects the wishes of the woman who survived the crime.  The judge is expected to make his decision Thursday morning.

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.