Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman and Sedley Alley
Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman
Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman has been on Tennessee’s death row for over 30 years. His capital murder trial, held in Nashville in 1987, lacked both crime scene evidence and presentation of his history of mental illness because of the violent abuse he endured as a child. Eight of the twelve trial jurors now say that they no longer have confidence in their sentencing verdict.
Abu has never received a fair trial.
In 1998, a Federal District Court overturned his death sentence finding “ineffective assistance of the counsel at sentencing. In other words, the court found that Abu did not have the proper help from his attorney as the Constitution mandates. Then in 2000, in a split decision, the Sixth Circuit court reversed and reinstated Abu’s death sentence.
After years of execution dates, stays of execution, and more litigation, in 2019, Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins approved a deal agreed on by Abu’s attorney, the victim’s family, and the Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk to remove Abu’s death sentence and replace it with three life sentences. The Davidson County Criminal Court hearing that led to this agreement focused on the misconduct of the original prosecutor, John Zimmerman, including when he improperly blocked three black members of the jury pool.
A few weeks later, the State of Tennessee Attorney General’s Office appealed the order from Davidson County Criminal Court. Abu’s legal team responded: “The Tennessee Constitution gives the District Attorney the exclusive authority to handle criminal cases within his district…The Attorney General is not seeking to uphold our most cherished constitutional principles. Instead, [he] is taking a stand for racism and a prosecutor’s violation of his constitutional and ethical duties.”
During his time on death row, Abu Ali has earned a paralegal degree, private investigation degree, and Rule 31 mediator degree. He is a senior mediator for his prison unit. He serves as the elected representative of his unit, negotiating with the prison administration on behalf of his fellow prisoners.
His execution date of April 16, 2020, was removed and exchanged for a sentence of life in prison sentence by the Davidson County Criminal Court, but now, with the State’s appeal, Abu’s execution date could be reinstated.
Please visit justiceforabu.org for more information on this case.
Tennessee executed Sedley Alley on June 28, 2006, after Tennessee courts refused to conduct DNA tests on crime scene evidence that could have proved Mr. Alley’s innocence and identified the murderer. Five years later, in 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court acknowledged that the ruling in his case was wrong and overruled it in State v. Powers.
On April 30, 2019, April Alley, the daughter of Mr. Alley and the executor of his estate, asked the Criminal Court for Shelby County in Memphis for the post-conviction DNA testing that should have been conducted before Mr. Alley was executed. She has also requested that Governor Lee order the DNA testing in light of his executive power to grant posthumous pardons.
Mr. Alley was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Marine Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie Collins, but reinvestigation of the case over the years has shown that the evidence against Mr. Alley was weak. There are items of evidence, including men’s red underwear found near Ms. Collins’s body that police believed were worn by her attacker, that could provide proof of Mr. Alley’s innocence and help to identify the real assailant. Dr. Richard Leo, an expert in false confessions, has analyzed the case and determined that Mr. Alley’s confession was likely false, as key details in Mr. Alley’s statement about how the crime was committed do not match the forensic evidence.
In addition to the potentially problematic confession, other physical evidence from the crime scene and eyewitness accounts do not match Mr. Alley. For example, the tire tracks found at the crime scene were not from Mr. Alley’s vehicle. Recovered shoe prints did not match Mr. Alley’s shoes. Also, a key witness’s description of a man with a station wagon where Ms. Collins was abducted described that man as 5’6-8” tall with short brown hair and a dark complexion. Mr. Alley was 6’4” tall, had red, medium-length hair, and a light complexion.
In 2006, the Tennessee Board of Pardons and Parole recommended that then-Governor Bredesen stay Mr. Alley’s execution and order DNA testing. Instead, the governor directed Mr. Alley’s defense team to present their request for testing to the Tennessee courts, which refused the testing and allowed his execution to proceed.
In 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court expressly overruled the decision that denied Mr. Alley’s request for testing. If Mr. Alley were alive today, he would be granted DNA testing.
After learning about a new lead in this case, April Alley decided to move forward with this request for DNA testing. Innocence Project attorneys, who are representing Ms. Alley, along with Tennessee attorney Stephen Ross Johnson, received a letter in the spring of 2019 from law enforcement sources in St. Louis, informing them that they had indicted Thomas Bruce, a suspect in a homicide and rape, who they believe might be a serial offender. After looking into his history, law enforcement discovered that Mr. Bruce was taking courses at the same Avionics Training School in Millington as Ms. Collins in the months prior to the homicide.
Given this new lead, the State of Tennessee has the opportunity now to find the truth. The truth is all that April Alley wants and is what the justice system should demand. The public’s interest in having the right defendant brought to justice extends beyond Mr. Alley. If Tennessee executed the wrong person in 2006, the actual perpetrator may still be free to harm other people. This is a matter of public safety, and the testing must be conducted.
Upcoming Execution Dates:
- Lee Hall, December 5, 2019
- Nicholas Todd Sutton, February 20, 2020
- Abu-Ali Abdur’ Rahman, April 16, 2020
Tennessee resumed execution in 2018 after nearly a decade without one. Since 2018, Tennessee has executed:
- Billy Ray Irick, August 9, 2018
- Edmund Zagorski, November 1, 2018
- David Miller, December 6, 2018
- Don Johnson, May 16, 2019
- Stephen West, August 15, 2019
Each of these men had spent more than 30 years each on Tennessee’s death row before their executions.