NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee inmate is leaving death row, just eight months before his execution date, after a judge approved an agreement Friday to convert his death sentence to life in prison.
Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman had signed the agreement with prosecutors on Wednesday, but Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins did not announce his approval until Friday morning.
The agreement comes after Abdur’Rahman, who is black, petitioned to reopen his case, presenting evidence that prosecutors at his trial treated potential black jurors differently from potential white jurors.
Speaking briefly from the bench, Watkins said he wanted to be sure it was legal for the parties to set aside a jury verdict, but he found support for the action in both state and federal law.
“The court believes the parties reached an equitable and just resolution and therefore approves the agreed order,” Watkins said.
Abdur’Rahman’s attorney, Brad MacLean, said in an interview after the hearing that he hopes other prosecutors will follow the example of Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk.
“This is exactly the way the system is supposed to work,” he said. “Every system is a human system and subject to human error. The true test of a fair and just system is its capacity to correct itself.”
Abdur’Rahman was sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of Patrick Daniels. The 68-year-old inmate has seen three previous execution dates cancelled thanks to various legal appeals. But over the past year, Tennessee’s condemned inmates have had little success in the courts.
Tennessee has executed five people in just over a year with two more executions scheduled in the coming months.