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Abu-Ali Abdur' Rahman

Mentally Ill
Execution Date: Grandted Stay of Execution

Case Overview
Letters Asking for Clemency
Briefs, Petitions, etc.

Case Overview

Abu-Ali Abdur' Rahman, a 52 year old African-American man, was scheduled to be executed in Tennessee on 18 June 2003. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of Patrick Daniels that occurred on 17 February 1986. On 6 June 2003, Rahman received a stay of execution from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The events of Abdur' Rahman's encounter with Daniels are depicted in his petition for clemency and State of Tennessee v. James Lee Jones, 789 S.W.2d 545, 1990 Tenn. LEXIS 162. Abdur' Rahman joined the Southeast Gospel Ministry (SGM), a Black consciousness religious organization formed for the purpose of improving the African-American community in Nashville. Abdur' Rahman and Harold Miller entered Daniels' home on 17 February, 1986 to effectuate this plan. They encountered both Daniels and Norma Norman, a companion. Daniels and Norman were bound, gagged and blindfolded. (Ibid at 550, 12). A knife from the kitchen was used to stab Daniels and Norman multiple times. Daniels died as a result of the six stab wounds he sustained to his chest, four of which were sustained by his heart. (Ibid at 550, 12) However, Norma survived her injuries. She was unable to identify her assailant because her eyes had been covered by duct tape during the incident."

Abdur' Rahman was 34 years old at the time of the crime. There is evidence that he has suffered from a trauma-induced anxiety disorder since his childhood that has predominantly been diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He suffers from serious mental illnesses and has attempted suicide on multiple occasions. At times, he has been psychotic and has suffered states of blackout and periods of dissociation, including a period of dissociation that occurred during the crime.

Social History:

Abu-Ali Abdur' Rahman, born James Lee Jones, suffered substantial physical, sexual and psychological abuse throughout his childhood. Abdur' Rahman's descriptions of the abuse he suffered were noted in Diana McCoy's social history of Abdur' Rahman, in an appendix to his petition for clemency. According to his petition for clemency, his family demonstrated a history of abuse prior to his birth, when his mother took three of his half-siblings to the woods and left them to die. A cab driver found the children, who were subsequently sent to live in foster families. Fellow victims of this abuse, Abdur' Rahman's brother committed suicide in 1997 and his sister was last known to be a mental patient in an institution, as noted in his petition for clemency.

Abdur' Rahman demonstrated a number of behaviors that hinted at the emergence of his mental illness during a turbulent childhood in which the family moved frequently for his father's job, described in Diana McCoy's social history of Abdur' Rahman. Abdur-Rahman's father, a member of the U.S. military, abused him considerably. His father disciplined him with a billy club, sexually abused him, and as punishment, locked him in closets for long periods of time without access to light, food and water. These acts have been cited as contributory to his disassociative disorder and are all detailed in his petition for clemency.

Abdur' Rahman was sent to a federal youth facility at age 18, when he was convicted on a robbery charge. While in prison, Abdur' Rahman was the subject of frequent sexual threats and intimidation. In response, he killed a gang leader that frequently raped him. Abdur' Rahman was convicted of second degree murder for this crime. The details of his previous stint in prison are noted in his petition for clemency.

He was eventually released from prison and moved near Nashville to reunite with one of his brothers. It was in Nashville that Abdur' Rahman joined the Southeast Gospel Ministry, the group that sent Abdur' Rahman and Harold Miller to frighten local drug dealer Patrick Daniels.

The Trial:

According to his current attorney, Abdur' Rahman's trial preparation by his trial attorney did not meet the bare minimum. Therefore, it is argued that Abdur' Rahman received ineffective assistance of counsel. His trial attorney conducted no preparation before the trial and did not interview Abdur' Rahman for the first time until just 5 days before the beginning of the trial. This cursory interview was the first and only time the trial attorney consultated with Abdur' Rahman. The attorney interviewed no witnesses, neglected to look at any forensic evidence, and contacted none of Abdur' Rahman's family members. Further, the attorney did not review any mental health records and failed to investigate any aspect of Abdur' Rahman's background. One of the attorneys later stated, when the jury had to deliberate between the death penalty and life in prison, that "we didn't give the jury a reason to oppose death", though abundant mitigating evidence was available to be presented, his trial defense counsel called only two witnesses during the sentencing stage--Abdur' Rahman and his wife. Rahman had not sufficiently been prepared by his attorneys to testify and became distraught on the stand. The jurors, 11 of whom were Caucasian, never learned of Rahman's history of mental illness. Abdur' Rahman does not recall the attack and consistently claims that he blacked out during the incident.

Evidentiary Considerations:

The crime scene was covered in blood. However, there was no forensic evidence to indicate that Abdur' Rahman's clothing had been stained during the crime, as noted in his petition for clemency.

Miller fled the state after the crime and was apprehended a year later. He was also present during the incident and identified Abdur' Rahman as the assailant to prosecutors in exchange for a conviction for second degree murder and a prison term of 25 years. Miller was released from prison on parole after serving only 6 years. The jury was never presented with the forensic information regarding the lack of blood on his clothing. According to Abdur' Rahman's petition for clemency, the prosecuting attorney in the case has since been disciplined on multiple occasions for having violated standards of attorney conduct.

Appellate Considerations/Errors at Trial:

Much of Abdur' Rahman's appeals have dealt with the lack of mitigation in sentencing. His appellate attorneys have consistently attacked the fact that the trial jury learned nothing regarding Abdur' Rahman's mental history. In 1998, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that "[h]ad counsel presented the other evidence of [Abdur' Rahman's] background and history, there is more than a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have voted for a life sentence rather than the death penalty." Campbell ruled that Abdur' Rahman deserved a new sentencing hearing, but this decision was subsequently overturned by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2-1. The Tennessee Supreme Court denied his request to recommend a commutation of a life sentence, 4-1. The Court lacks the authority to commute the sentence, but it does have the authority to recommend to the Governor a commutation of the sentence in what is called a "Certificate of Commutation."

The Current Status of Abu-Ali Abdur' Rahman:

Abdur' Rahman has been a model prisoner since his incarceration in 1986. He has instituted and volunteered for a number of community improvement programs, both within the jail and with regards to the outside community. He has also converted to and become an active practitioner of Islam, and obtained his G.E.D. and a paralegal degree.

Abdur' Rahman's execution was scheduled for April, 2002. The Supreme Court granted a stay of execution and certiorari for his case 36 hours prior to the execution date. The Supreme Court conducted oral arguments in November 2002, but without explanation, dismissed the writ of certiorari in mid-December 2002 as "improvidently granted". Although Abdur' Rahman's petition for a rehearing en banc is pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and set to be decided within the next two to four weeks, he is slated for execution on 18 June 2003.

Letters for Clemency

  • European Union demarche urging clemency in the case of Abdur' Rahman.
  • Council of Europe letter asking for clemency on May 26, 2003.
  • Government of Switzerland - letter asking for clemency on May 14, 2003 signed by Ambassador of Switzerland, Christian Blickenstorfer.

Briefs, Petitions, Etc.