Man Convicted of Shooting Ex-Farrakhan Spokesman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Muslim preacher was convicted Thursday of the attempted murder of former Nation of Islam spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad during an appearance nearly two years ago at UC Riverside, and now faces a sentence of life in prison.

Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Mitchell said he did not anticipate James E. Bess, 51, ever being released on parole.

"Anyone who has demonstrated by his past conduct the inclination to go out and assassinate a political figure definitely is a menace to society," Mitchell said. "I don't think the parole board will see fit to let him out."

The jury deliberated two days before returning its verdicts, even though Muhammad said the gunman should be released and judged "in the court of the streets" because God's justice called for "his head to be severed from his body."

Bess was found guilty of the most serious charge--attempted premeditated deliberate murder with a handgun and the intentional infliction of great bodily injury.

In addition, he was convicted on five counts of assault with a firearm because his spray of gunfire hit five bystanders and was convicted of causing great bodily injury to three of them.

Because of the lesser charges, Bess faces between eight and 20 years of additional prison time beyond the life term, Mitchell said. Sentencing is set for April 4 before Judge H. Dennis Myers.

Muhammad was considered the most seriously injured. Although he was shot in the leg, the bullet came perilously close to severing a major vein and he could have bled to death, Mitchell said.

The shooting occurred after Muhammad--who was suspended in 1993 as the controversial spokesman for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan because of his verbal assaults against Jews, Arabs and whites--addressed several hundred people at UC Riverside on May 29, 1994.

Afterward, Muhammad went outdoors to continue a question-and-answer period, and Bess, according to witnesses who testified, began shooting.

Bess, a defrocked Nation of Islam minister from the Seattle area, testified that he was not the gunman and could not explain how he was linked to the incriminating evidence. Bess then refused to answer further questions.

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