NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee inmate is leaving death roweight months before what would have been his execution date, after a judgeapproved an agreement Friday to convert his death sentence to life in prison.
Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman (ah-BOO’-ah-LEE’) (AHB’-dur-RAK’-mahn) signed the agreement withprosecutors Wednesday, but Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins did notannounce his approval until Friday morning.
The agreement comes after Abdur’Rahman, who is black, petitionedto reopen his case, presenting evidence that prosecutors at his trial treatedblack potential jurors differently from white potential jurors.
Abdur’Rahman was sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder ofPatrick Daniels, who was stabbed to death. Norma Jean Norman was also stabbedbut survived. The stabbing took place in Norman’s house while her two youngdaughters, Katrina and Shawanna, huddled in a back bedroom.
Speaking to news reporters on Friday, the sisters said they wererelieved that the legal maneuverings in the case are finally over.
Abdur’Rahman has been on death row 32 years and seen threeprevious execution dates cancelled thanks to various appeals.
“I’m actually glad today that we won’t ever have to endurethis again,” Katrina Norman said.
Shawanna Norman said they remember the attack on their mother andstepfather like it was yesterday.
“I still go to counselling now on a regular basis because Ihave recurring nightmares that he is released and he stabs me to death andwe’re having a funeral in my grandmother’s house,” she said.
Shawanna Norman also said she still feels guilty that she didn’tthink to crawl out a window and seek help. She was 9 years old at the time andKatrina was 8.
Over the past year, Tennessee’s condemned inmates have had littlesuccess in the courts. Tennessee has executed five people in just over a yearwith two more executions scheduled in the coming months.
Abdur’Rahman’s execution date was to be April 16, and ShawannaNorman said they had been looking forward to it.
“We’re still OK, because he’s never going to see the light ofday,” she said, calling Abdur’Rahman “pure evil.”
They also had harsh words for the lead prosecutor in the case,John Zimmerman, who no longer works in Nashville, calling him dishonest andsaying he should be disbarred.
In a phone interview Friday, Zimmerman said he did not try to keepAfrican Americans off the jury.
“There were two African American victims and two African Americandefendants,” he said. “There’s no way we wanted an all-whitejury.”
One black person did end up serving on the jury, but severalothers were excluded, according to court records.
Abdur’Rahman’s attorney, Brad MacLean, said in an interview afterthe hearing that he hopes other prosecutors will follow the example ofNashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, who signed the agreement to convertAbdur’Rahman’s death sentence to life.
“This is exactly the way the system is supposed towork,” he said. “Every system is a human system and subject to humanerror. The true test of a fair and just system is its capacity to correctitself.”
Speaking briefly from the bench earlier, Judge Watkins explainedhis delay in accepting the agreement by saying he wanted to be sure it waslegal for the parties to set aside a jury verdict. Watkins said he foundsupport for the action in both state and federal law.
Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Faith Seifuddinsaid in an email that Abur’Rahman will remain on death row for 30 days, thetime it will take for Watkins’ order to become final, before he is reclassifiedand moved.