Death row inmate may get new trial due to questions of discrimination surrounding prosecutor

Posted at 8:29 PM, Aug 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 13:21:37-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The state of Tennessee is gearing up to execute another death row inmate on Thursday. But while those preparations are underway, an inmate scheduled to be put to death next year may get another trial.

Abu Ali Abdur'Rahman was sentenced to death in 1987 for binding a Nashville couple with duct tape and stabbing both Patrick Daniels and Norma Jean Norman. While Norman survived, Daniels did not.

Later this month, Nashville Judge Monte Watkins is giving Abdur'Rahman a chance to prove why he deserves a new trial.

Abdur'Rahman's attorneys say the issue surrounds the man who originally prosecuted him -- John Zimmermann.

In a complaint filed in 2016, Abdur'Rahman's attorney Bradley MacLean says during the original trial Zimmerman kept some African-American potential jurors from serving on the jury because of his "racist motivations."

It was three years ago that Watkins had ordered the hearing to potentially re-open the case, but it's just now been scheduled for August 28th.

This isn't the first controversy surrounding Zimmermann.

He was also the prosecutor behind the botched Operation Candy Crush raids in Rutherford County last year, when investigators seized what they thought were candies containing a form of marijuana from convenience stores.

In fact those candies contained CBD -- a legal form of hemp.

Zimmermann is currently being sued by the store owners, where he's accused of telling one of the candy manufacturers that "all the people selling CBD in Rutherford County are foreigners."

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk has also raised concerns about a comment Zimmerman made during a panel at a state D.A. conference in 2015, something Funk called "blatant advice to use race in jury selection."

In a letter, Funk says Zimmerman told the panel he once tried a conspiracy case with all Hispanic defendants. Funk says Zimmerman told the panel audience that he "wanted an all African-American jury, because 'all Blacks hate Mexicans."

It's unlikely Abdur'Rahman will ever be released from prison, even with a new trial, but it's a move that could potentially get him removed from death row.