Teen shooting suspect to get X-rays to determine his age

Mahdi Hassan Ali
This undated image provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff shows Mahdi Hassan Ali, who along with another teenager was charged with three counts of murder in the Jan. 6 killings at Seward Market and Halal Meat.
AP Photo/Hennepin County Sheriff

A teenager charged with murder in the shooting deaths of three men in a south Minneapolis convenience store in January will get dental X-rays to determine his age.

Lawyers met in Hennepin County District Court Thursday morning to determine how to prove the true age of a teenage triple murder suspect, Mahdi Hassan Ali.

Ali's attorney claims Ali was 15 years old when the crime was committed and should be treated as a juvenile. Prosecutors say Ali was 17 at the time and should be tried as an adult.

Ali is accused of three counts of murder for killing three men at the Seward Market in south Minneapolis in January 2010. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Goetz says because there is a dispute over Ali's age, each side will compile briefs and present them to a judge at an age-determination hearing scheduled for August. He says the briefs will address questions like, who has the burden of proof, and what type of evidence will be required to make the most accurate determination of Ali's age.

"The surprising thing is that this question of how do we determine how old somebody is, is one that the courts have dealt with very infrequently," Goetz said. "There's not much, if any, law to guide us about how as a matter of process we make the determination."

Goetz has a document he says is from a Kenyan hospital, which states that a woman named Sainab Osman gave birth to a boy at the hospital in August 1994. Goetz says DNA testing shows that Osman is Mahdi Ali's mother. If that is true, then Ali is 15 years old right now.

Goetz said the mother was too sick to raise Ali, so she gave the boy to her niece and her niece's husband. Goetz is trying to get permission for the couple, who live in South Africa, to testify via video conference that they raised the boy before he came to the U.S.

Goetz said Ali's actual age is important. If Ali was 15 at the time of the crime, he would have to be certified to stand trial as an adult. If tried and convicted as a juvenile, Ali could not be locked up for life.

But Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is skeptical of the evidence presented so far by Ali's attorney. No matter Ali's his age, Freeman says he is confident Ali will stand trial as an adult.

"Any person, as the video clearly shows in this case, who shot three people in a cold-blooded manner -- if that isn't enough for adult certification, then we need to change the adult certification laws," said Freeman.

The case could raise a constitutional challenge. If Ali were convicted of murder in adult court as a 15-year-old, the sentencing options for him are unclear. Goetz, Ali's attorney, said the Minnesota Supreme Court has yet to determine if life without parole for a 15-year-old is an unconstitutional sentence.

Goetz said an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar question may affect Ali's case.

But Freeman disagrees. He said if Ali is guilty on three counts of murder, his sentence should be life without parole -- regardless of his age. Freeman said he's not aware the courts have ruled such a sentence would be unconstitutional.