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18 years after NC5 investigation, inmate may finally get off death row

Posted: 5:41 PM, Aug 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-28 19:37:49-04
Abu Ali Abdur'Rahman interview.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A motion by Nashville DA Glenn Funk to set aside the death sentence of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman would end a 30-year-battle over whether the convicted killer received a fair trial.

On Wednesday, Funk asked Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins to vacate Abdur'Rahman's death sentence and sentence him to life imprisonment, agreeing that the original prosecutor discriminated against African-Americans during jury selection.

Watkins took the motion under advisement.

It comes 18 years after NewsChannel 5 Investigates first raised questions about the case.

"Most of my life, I can truthfully say that I've never belonged to anything," Abdur'Rahman said during an exclusive interview in 2001.

Born with the name of James Jones, Abdur'Rahman later adopted the Islamic name that, "in essence, means servant of God."

He was convicted more than three decades ago for a brutal home invasion in 1986 that left one man dead.

The victim: Patrick Daniels, a small-time Nashville drug dealer.

As crime scene photos show, Daniels was bound with duct tape and repeatedly stabbed in the chest as blood splattered across the room.

The two intruders: Devalle Miller and Abdur'Rahman.

"My fight has never been that I don't deserve to be incarcerated because I'm not saying I wasn't involved in a particular incident," Abdur'Rahman told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

The convicted killer claimed he and Devalle Miller went inside Patrick Daniels' home on a vigilante mission to frighten him into stopping his drug dealing.

Then, with Daniels tied up, his eyes taped shut, one of the men repeatedly stabbed him in the back.

Abdur'Rahman said he blacked out.

"My co-defendant said I was the assailant," he recounted.

NewsChannel 5 asked, "But you did not remember?"

"I did not remember," he insisted.

It's a mental illness that, according to defense experts, was triggered by horrific child abuse suffered at the hands of his father, a brutal military police officer.

"This man here beat me with billy clubs," Abdur'Rahman remembered. "This man took my penis and beat me with a bat with that. This man used to use the policy military straps and whip me with it."

"My father used to put me in the closet, hog tie me and just leave me in the dark. Because of the pain that I was enduring at the time, I used to pretend that I was somewhere else."

Abdur'Rahman's appellate lawyers heard even more horror stories from his siblings.

"His father caught him smoking cigarettes and made him eat the pack of cigarettes - and when he vomited, he made him eat the vomit off the floor," said attorney Bill Redick.

Noted forensic psychiatrist Dr. Robert Saddoff evaluated the convicted killer, even placing him under hypnosis to test whether his lack of memory was real.

Saddoff said those childhood incidents triggered a mental illness, known as a disassociative disorder.

"He would be in the woods with his animal friends in his own mind while he was in that intolerable space in the closet," Saddoff told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Abdur'Rahman said that mental illness affected his memory of the situation.

"I was wondering if I was the assailant because everybody was claiming I was the assailant," he said.

In fact, police recovered the coat Abdur'Rahman had worn during the home invasion, but there wasn't even the tiniest speck of blood on it.

"Whoever was the assailant would have been covered with blood," said attorney Bradley MacLean.

Abdur'Rahman's lawyers noted that, after Devalle Miller was captured and agreed to finger his friend in exchange for leniency, investigators never tested Miller's own coat for blood stains.

The state's key witness got a deal that let him walk out of prison after just six years.

Yet, years later, under hypnosis, Abdur'Rahman seemed to see his co-defendant doing the stabbing.

"It was a knife," the inmate said while in the trance.

"What was he doing with that knife?" Saddoff asked.

"He killed Patrick."

"He killed Patrick?"

"He blamed it on me."

Dr. Saddoff admitted he could not be sure what really happened.

"Under hypnosis, he absolutely does believe that," Saddoff said.

"Does it mean that he really observed this happening, and it's really true and factual? I can't say that."

Still, Abdur'rahman always insisted he was at peace with however his story ended.

"That's in God's hands."

Along the way, there were quite a few judges, including a federal judge here in Nashville, who expressed outrage, not only about the conduct of the prosecutor, but also about the conduct of the defense lawyer.

But, until General Funk decided to take a new look at the case, the appellate courts had always been fine with letting Abdur'Rahman be put to death.