Minn. high court hears arguments in appeal of teen murder suspect

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the appeal of a teenage murder suspect with a disputed birth date.

Attorney Frederick Goetz said his client, Mahdi Hassan Ali, was 15-years-old when he allegedly shot and killed three men at the Seward Market in January of 2010. However, after an age verification hearing last year, a lower court ruled Ali was likely 16 or older. That means Ali is presumed to be old enough to stand trial as an adult.

Like many Somali immigrants and refugees, Ali doesn't have a birth certificate. At the time of his arrest, Ali carried a Minnesota driver's license listing his age as 17. However, during the age verification hearing, Ali's mother testified that her son was 15.

Goetz argued to the panel of seven justices that the lower court based its decision on a preponderance of evidence, which is a lower standard than what is normally applied in a criminal case.

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"That court listened to all the evidence and found it not clear or convincing that the child was 16-years of age on the date of the offense," Goetz said. "It was only the preponderance standard that the court found was met."

Goetz said the juvenile court should decide whether to try Ali as an adult or juvenile. Prosecutors say because of the serious nature of the charges, they are confident Ali will stand trial as an adult.

But prosecutor Mike Richardson said what matters is what Ali is accused of doing, not how old he is.

"Age is not an element of a felony in the state of Minnesota of the kind that we are now dealing with," Richardson said. "Age is a feature or an aspect of an individual."