Judge to decide age of murder suspect after hearing wraps up

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. The teens were charged as adults. They are not related.
AP Photo/Hennepin County Sheriff

A hearing to determine the actual age of triple-homicide suspect Mahdi Hassan Ali wrapped up Thursday in Hennepin County District Court. The outcome of the hearing could decide whether Ali will stand trial as a juvenile.

Over the course of the two-and-a-half-day hearing, defense attorney Frederick Goetz has tried to prove that Mahdi Ali was 15 years old at the time he allegedly shot and killed three people at the Seward Market in January of this year. The crime shocked the Minneapolis Somali community.

In Minnesota, a 15-year-old has to be evalutated and certified before he or she can stand trial as an adult, their case must be handled in juvenile court.

Prosecutors argue Ali was at least 16 and likely 17 at the time of the shooting. Throughout the hearing, state witnesses pointed out that Ali's official documents all show he was born on Jan. 1, 1993.

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But Goetz said the documents are based on a lie created by two people who pretended to be Ali's parents when they brought him to the U.S. from Kenya in 2004. Goetz said the couple changed the boy's name from Khalid Farrah Arrasi to Mahdi Ali. The couple also gave Ali the birthdate of Jan. 1, 1993.

Goetz said the true authority is Ali's mother, Sainab Osman. And Osman testified in court Wednesday that she gave birth to Ali in 1994, so he would have been 15 in January of this year.

During her testimony, Osman admitted that she lied in order to maintain the fraudulent story behind her son's origins. Prosecutors say that makes her claims about her son's true age dubious. But Goetz said the prosecution can't have it both ways.

"The state wants to take their lies selectively. The name was a lie. The relationship was a lie. But they want you to believe that the birthdate was true. But a lie, is a lie, is a lie," said Goetz. "We don't know what date of birth is -- and the date of birth of Jan. 1, 1993 is as much of a lie as everything else."

Prosecutors declined to comment on the hearing.

But during the final day of testimony, prosecutors called witnesses to testify that Mahdi Ali and his mother, Sainab Osman, despite numerous opportunities, failed to come forward with what the two now say are Ali's real name and birthdate.

Minneapolis police homicide investigator Louis Porras testified that he interviewed Ali several times following the Seward Market shooting. He said each time, Ali gave his name as Mahdi Ali and his birthdate of Jan. 1, 1993.

Porras says he interviewed Osman with the help of one of her relatives who translated for her. During the interview, Porras says Osman never offered a different name or birthdate for her son.

Jeremy Christenson, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testified that Ali or Osman could have corrected Ali's identity at any time. Christenson said the manner in which Ali entered the country is part of a "fraudulent scheme." And he said the bureau is conducting an investigation.

However, Ali apparently did tell others about his true identity.

Hennepin County social worker Lynell Anderson testified that in 2005, Ali ran away to St. Joseph's Home for Children. At the home, Ali told social workers that his real name was Khalid Arrasi, and that the people who brought him to the U.S. were not his real parents. An evaluation of Ali done by a social worker at the home said Ali appeared to be traumatized by his experience.

In their closing statement, prosecutors pointed to a forensic analysis of dental X-rays taken of Ali earlier this year. The state's expert witness, Dr. James Lewis, said the X-rays show a 75 percent chance that Ali was 17 at the time of the shooting.

Ali's attorney, Frederick Goetz, said the conclusion was based on "junk science."

Judge Peter Cahill said he expects to issue a ruling in a few weeks. Regardless of what Cahill decides, Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman has said he will push to try Ali as an adult, because of the serious nature of the crime.

The start of Ali's murder trial has been moved back to the first week of January 2011. The other suspect in the case, Ahmed Abdi Ali -- no relation to Mahdi Ali -- pleaded guilty to lesser charges several months ago.