NEW YORK — A grand jury declined Tuesday to indict a Muslim chaplain accused of trying to smuggle razor blades and scissors into a jail, spurring his release without bail while the case continues.
Imam Zul-Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, whose arrest last week brought his 1970s murder conviction to light, still faces charges including felony counts of promoting prison contraband, at least for now. He's due back in court for a status update April 27, and it's unclear whether prosecutors will try again for an indictment.
In the meantime, he was released under a state law that limits how long felony defendants can be held without being indicted. He had been held on $50,000 bond.
Defense lawyer James McQueeney called Tuesday's developments "a good sign" for Abdu-Shahid, who says he didn't realize he had the items in his bag when he reported for work Feb. 3 at the Manhattan Detention Complex, nicknamed the Tombs.
The imam put the four razor blades in the bag months earlier after using them to scrape paint off a window at his Staten Island home and then forgot about them, McQueeney said. The scissors also had been dropped in the bag and forgotten, he said.
Prosecutors wouldn't discuss the grand jury proceedings.
Department of Correction spokesman Stephen Morello said Tuesday that jail officials would seek to fire Abdu-Shahid, who has been suspended without pay from the $49,000-a-year job he has held since 2007.
After Abdu-Shahid's arrest, Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro ordered a review of the circumstances surrounding his hiring.
Abdu-Shahid, then named Paul Pitts, was imprisoned from 1979 to 1993 after he and three other men were convicted in a deadly shooting during a robbery, state prison officials say. He was on parole until 2001.
McQueeney says Abdu-Shahid, 58, has reformed himself since the 1976 crime.