Defense will not focus on age of triple-murder suspect

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 pretrial hearing Tuesday determined that the defense of teenage triple-murder suspect Mahdi Hassan Ali will not focus on the dispute over his age.

Ali is accused of killing three men at the Seward Market in Minneapolis on Jan. 6, 2010. It's taken until now for the trial to commence because his defense attorney Fred Goetz had argued, all the way to the state Supreme Court, that Ali should be tried as a juvenile. Goetz conceded Tuesday that he will not interject the age dispute into the trial. However, he says if Ali is convicted, he will probably ask a jury to determine Ali's true age before he is sentenced.

The trial in Hennepin County District Court will likely include testimony by another teenager who was with Ali and his accomplice on the night of the robbery at the market, but was not charged. Goetz said the teenager admitted taking part in the robbery. Jurors will also hear from accomplice Ahmed Abdi Ali, no relation. Ahmed Abdi Ali has pleaded guilty to robbery charges and agreed to testify against Mahdi Ali.

However, the testimony will not include much about the origin of the firearm used in the killings, which was never recovered. Minneapolis police forensic experts linked bullet casings from the market to a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol stolen from the Frontiersman gun store in St. Louis Park just weeks before the triple homicide.

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Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill says even though the older brother of accomplice Ahmed Abdi Ali was later arrested with a different firearm stolen from the same gun store, there was no evidence to link any of the men to the gun store burglary.

Evidence presented at trial will also include security camera footage from the Seward Market. Judge Cahill has ruled that expert witnesses will not be able to offer their opinions about who they think is pictured in the videos.

Mahdi Hassan Ali appeared in court Tuesday. Ali was dressed in a shirt, tie and slacks instead of a bright orange prison jumpsuit. When the judge identified him to potential jurors and asked him to stand, Ali said, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen," and sat back down.

Jury selection is expected to last three days. Attorneys will individually question 50 potential jurors, who each filled out questionnaires in the court room. None of the potential jurors appeared to be of east African descent — unlike the three shooting victims, the defendant and his accomplice. Testimony is scheduled to begin next week.