State wants high court to immediately take case involving death sentence deal

Abu Ali Abdur'Rahman interview.jpg
Posted at 3:06 PM, Sep 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 17:09:20-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — State lawyers want the Tennessee Supreme Court to exercise a rare power to immediately take up a case surrounding a death sentence deal given to convicted killer and death row inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman.

Last month, Abdur’Rahman and Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk agreed to convert the inmate’s death sentence to life imprisonment, over concerns of racial discrimination during jury selection before Abdur’Rahman’s original trial in 1987. In light of the deal, Abdur’Rahman agreed to drop his request for an entirely new trial. Nashville judge Monte Watkins approved the deal between Funk and Abdur’Rahman last month.

In response, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed an appeal last week. Slatery said neither Funk nor Watkins had the authority to make or approve the deal, exposing a rare tension between state prosecutors in Slatery’s office and local district prosecutors in Funk’s office.

In court documents filed this week, Slatery is asking the five justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court to immediately take up the appeal, rather than the traditional path of sending the case to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals first. Tennessee law allows the state supreme court to exercise it’s “reach-down” power – bypassing lower courts and immediately assuming jurisdiction over a case – in rare instances of “unusual public importance” where the case presents a “special need for expedited decision” and involves “issues of constitutional law.”

In the court filing, Slatery argues that all three conditions exist for the court to use its reach-down power.

Click here to read the entire court document.

Slatery says the supreme court must decide whether Abdur’Rahman’s death sentence can be changed after the fact.

"The practice of modifying final judgements threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the integrity of the criminal justice system," Slatery says in the request to the high court.

Slatery also argues that a quicker review is needed because of Abdur’Rahman’s impending April 20, 2020 execution date that had previously been set by the Tennessee Supreme Court.