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Muhammad Shooting Suspect Has Long Criminal History

June 1, 1994

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ The man charged with shooting a controversial Nation of Islam preacher has a long criminal record, including the killing of his own brother.

James Edward Bess was arraigned Tuesday on attempted murder and assault charges in the shooting of Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a former spokesman for the Black Muslim group. He pleaded innocent.

Bess, 49, a defrocked minister of the Nation of Islam, is recovering from injuries sustained in a beating by Muhammad supporters after Sunday’s shooting.

Muhammad, 46, was shot in the legs after giving a speech at the University of California, Riverside. Four of his bodyguards and a bystander also were wounded.

Doctors removed two bullet fragments from Muhammad’s left leg late Tuesday and he was listed in good condition today. Bodyguard Vernado Puckett, 34, also was in good condition. The others have been released.

Police in Riverside said they believe Bess acted alone in the attack.

Although police have not identified a motive, Nation of Islam members said Bess was expelled as a minister three years ago in Seattle by either Muhammad or close ally Wazir Muhammad, and had preached against the former spokesman.

Friends of Bess said he wasn’t violent, but according to decades-old newspaper articles in the Fresno Bee, he has an extensive criminal record.

In 1975, a Fresno jury acquitted Bess in the fatal shooting of his brother, Elvin O. Bess Jr. Bess said it was self-defense because he believed his brother had a gun. The package actually contained a frying pan, the Bee reported.

In 1965, a jury convicted Bess and another brother, Henry, of felony assault for beating and kicking a 41-year-old Fresno man who refused to buy the Muslim newspaper Muhammad Speaks.

James and Henry Bess also were convicted in 1964 of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison, then paroled the same day, in Caruthersville, Mo., the Bee reported.

Khallid Muhammad was suspended as senior aide to Louis Farrakhan after a November speech in which he called Jews ″the bloodsuckers″ of the black community and urged the killing of South African whites.

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