The jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding Wednesday to spare the life of the Muslim cleric now called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He will not have a chance at parole.
The 58-year-old Al-Amin, wearing the robes and hat of a cleric, showed no emotion when the sentence was read.
"He's alive — and that creates another day for us to fight," said Al-Amin's brother, Ed Brown.
Al-Amin was convicted Saturday of killing Deputy Ricky Kinchen as the officer tried to serve him with an arrest warrant. Another deputy was wounded, but survived and identified Al-Amin as the gunman.
The judge, who was bound by the jury's decision Wednesday, formally sentenced Al-Amin to life without parole plus 35 years for the other charges in the 13-count indictment.
"This is just a starting point for us to heal and go on," said the slain deputy's sister-in-law, Lisa Francis.
Al-Amin leads one of the nation's largest black Muslim groups, the National Ummah. The movement, which has formed 36 mosques around the nation, is credited with revitalizing poverty-stricken pockets such as Atlanta's West End, where he owned a grocery store.
Many Americans are familiar with Al-Amin as H. Rap Brown, a 1960s militant who served as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1967, he characterized violence as a vital tool for blacks, "as American as cherry pie."
Brown changed his name when he converted to the Dar-ul Islam movement in the 1970s while serving a five-year sentence for his role in a robbery that ended in a shootout with New York police.
His trial here had been postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks because the judge feared anti-Muslim sentiment would taint the jury pool.
Defense attorneys had pleaded with the jury to spare Al-Amin, who was described by character witnesses as a peaceful religious leader.
Prosecutors portrayed Al-Amin as a deliberate killer who deprived a family of a husband, son and father. Members of Kinchen's family testified about their difficulty recovering from his death.
The surviving deputy, Aldranon English, testified that Al-Amin pulled an assault rifle and opened fire when he and Kinchen tried to serve him with a warrant on minor charges.
Al-Amin, according to testimony, then produced a 9 mm handgun and shot Kinchen three times as he lay bleeding in the street. English picked Al-Amin out of a photo lineup from his hospital bed the next day.
Defense attorneys said English was mistaken and someone else had shot the deputies. They also suggested that Al-Amin was framed as part of a government conspiracy that has dogged him since his days as a radical civil rights activist.
Al-Amin was arrested four days after the shootings in White Hall, Ala. The .223-caliber Ruger assault rifle and Browning handgun were recovered in the woods nearby. The defense suggested the weapons had been planted by federal authorities.