Man Accused Of Shooting Muhammad Was Acquitted of Killing His Own Brother
Jun. 01, 1994
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ The man accused of shooting former Nation of Islam spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad shot his own brother to death in 1975 and was acquitted by a jury that found he acted in self-defense.
James Edward Bess, a defrocked minister in the Nation of Islam, was arraigned Tuesday on one count of attempted premeditated murder in Sunday's attack on Muhammad. He also was arraigned on five counts of assault with a firearm with infliction of great bodily injury. Bess pleaded innocent.
Muhammad, who was shot in both legs, underwent two hours of surgery Tuesday to remove fragments, Riverside Community Hospital said in a statement. A hospital spokeswoman had no additional information and did not know his condition.
Four of Muhammad's bodyguards and a bystander also were wounded in the attack in a parking lot after Muhammad's speech at the University of California, Riverside.
A crowd of up to 70 people - some yelling, ''He works for the Jews 3/8'' - beat the black gunman before police rescued him.
According to decades-old newspaper articles uncovered Tuesday, Bess has an extensive criminal record.
A jury in Fresno acquitted Bess in 1975 in the fatal shooting of his brother, Elvin O. Bess Jr., the Fresno Bee reported at the time. Bess admitted to the shooting, but said he acted in self-defense because he believed his brother was about to shoot him. No gun was found.
In 1965, an all-white jury convicted Bess and another brother, Henry, of felony assault on a man who refused to buy a Muslim newspaper. It wasn't clear from the Bee's article what sentence James Bess received. Henry Bess was sentenced to nine months in jail.
During that trial, according to the Bee's article, evidence was submitted that showed James and Henry Bess were convicted in 1964 of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison in Caruthersville, Mo., then paroled the same day. The article didn't provide additional details.
Police said Tuesday they were wrapping up their investigation of Muhammad's shooting and are certain the gunman acted alone.
''With this crime, we're not dealing with a whodunit. We know whodunit, and there is no mystery about that,'' said Hank Rosenfeld, chief of campus police.
Three 9mm semiautomatic pistols and a rifle with a scope found near the shooting scene have been linked to Bess, university spokesman Jack Chappell said.
Muhammad, 46, was expected to remain hospitalized for a few days, Riverside Community Hospital said. He had two bodyguards at his bedside and two bodyguards and two police officers posted outside his room.
Police were investigating why Muhammad deviated from security plans after his two-hour speech, during which he said whites are satanic and Jews oppressors.
Police Chief Ken Fortier said police were trying to learn the source of a note that was handed to Muhammad on stage, moments before the shooting. Muhammad read the note, and then suggested that the crowd leave the auditorium. Muhammad unexpectedly left through an unguarded door.
''I don't see it as a diversion,'' Fortier said. ''The note does not appear to be significant.''
Bess, 49, was taken from his hospital bed for his arraignment then returned to the undisclosed hospital, police said. He was listed in fair condition, police said.
All others wounded in the shooting were released from hospitals except bodyguard Vernado Puckett, 34, who was in good condition with gunshot wounds to his left shoulder and abdomen.
Nation of Islam members said Bess was expelled as a minister three years ago in Seattle by either Khallid Muhammad or close ally Wazir Muhammad.
Khallid Muhammad was suspended as senior aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan after a November speech in which he called Jews ''the bloodsuckers'' of the black community, called the pope a ''no-good cracker'' and urged the killing of South African whites.
Farrakhan defended the ''truths'' in the Muhammad's speech. As of Tuesday, he had not commented publicly on the shootings. Repeated calls to Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago found no one willing to comment.