NASHVILLE, Ten. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday resentenced a Tennessee death row inmate to life in prison for the second time in two years, after finding the man’s trial was marred by racism during jury selection.
In his order, Judge Monte Watkins vacated the conviction of Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman (ah-BOO’-ah-LEE’) (AHB’-dur-RAK’-mahn) after finding his Constitutional right to a fair trial had been violated. Then the trial court judge accepted a plea agreement in which Abdur’Rahman pleaded guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder and armed robbery for which he received three consecutive life sentences, according to the court order.
If the resentencing is not challenged, Abdur’Rahman will spend the rest of his life in prison but without the threat of execution.
Abdur’Rahman was originally sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of Patrick Daniels, who was stabbed to death. Norma Jean Norman was also stabbed but survived. The stabbing took place in Norman’s house while her two young daughters, Katrina and Shawanna, huddled in a back bedroom.
The state Attorney General’s Office could still appeal Abdur’Rahman’s resentencing. That’s what happened in 2019, the first time Watkins threw out Abdur’Rahman’s death sentence. The 2019 resentencing came after Abdur’Rahman, who is Black, petitioned to reopen his case, presenting evidence that prosecutors at his trial treated Black potential jurors differently from white potential jurors.
His attorneys eventually signed an agreement with District Attorney Glenn Funk to reduce his sentence in return for Abdur’Rahman agreeing to drop any future appeals. At the time, Katrina and Shawanna Norman said they were relieved that the legal manuverings were finally over.
In an unusual move, the state Attorney General’s Office appealed, arguing that Watkins didn’t have the authority to modify Abdur’Rahman’s sentence based merely on an agreement with the district attorney. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. It said Watkins could reveiw the petition again but ordered him to follow procedures outlined in the appeals court’s decision. That order set the stage for Tuesday’s do-over.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said in an email that prosecutors are reviewing Watkins’ order and “considering next steps.”