Court Delays Execution

For The Nashville City Paper

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delayed the execution of condemned death row inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman until justices can make a decision as to whether they will hear his appeal on the grounds of judicial misconduct. The court will decide Friday whether to grant “cert” in the case.

Granting cert means justices will hear arguments on the appeal. If the court decides not to hear the appeal, the stay will be lifted and a new execution date will be set.

“No court anywhere has looked at the substantive argument that prosecutorial misconduct by John Zimmerman [Abdur’Rahman’s attorney] took place,” said Randy Tatel, director of Tennessee Coalition Against State Killing. If the court decides to hear the appeal, the delay will stay in effect it issues an opinion.

Abdur’Rahman was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 1 a.m. Wednesday for the murder of a Nashville drug dealer, Patrick Daniels, in 1986. Attorneys for Abdur’Rahman asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review claims that their client did not receive a fair trial in 1987 because the defense did not present compelling evidence about Abdur’Rahman’s childhood abuse and consequent mental state. A federal judge in 1998 threw out the death sentence, concluding that Abdur’Rahman’s representation was flawed. Two years later an appeals court reinstated it saying his lawyer’s representation did not affect the outcome.

On Friday, Gov. Don Sundquist denied clemency for Abdur’Rahman. Sundguist issued a statement that said executive clemency was not appropriate. Tatel said Sundquist’s denial of clemency was based on the assumption that because Abdur’Rahman had made it through the court system, he had, by definition, told his story. This, Tatel said, was a “flawed system.” Tatel said that in the appellate courts there is a deadline for bringing up issues such as prosecutorial misconduct and once the deadline has passed, the claim, no matter how valid, cannot be heard.

“That represents the argument in the death penalty that procedure trumps justice,” Tatel said. Eight of the twelve jurors have since signed affidavits that stated knowing of Abdur’Rahman’s background and mental state would have affected his sentencing. Steven Hayes, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Correction, said Abdur’Rahman was moved back to death row from the deathwatch unit at around 3:45 p.m. If Abdur’Rahman is executed he will be the second man in Tennessee to be executed since 1960. The first was Robert Glen Coe.

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