Prosecution opens with grisly details in Mpls. triple slaying

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

The trial of Mahdi Hassan Ali, the teenager accused of killing three men at the Seward Market in January of 2010 continues later this morning in Hennepin County District Court.

Prosecutors on Monday began their case by telling jurors they will present video, DNA and eyewitness testimony to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ali is the killer. But the defense attorney said Ali was misidentified and that the prosecution's star witness is lying.

Testifying for the prosecution was Minneapolis police officer Brandon Brugger. He and his partner were the first officers on the scene of the shooting. As the officers arrived, Brugger said he saw a group of excited people at the front door of the store waving for him to come in.

Brugger described a bloody scene. His testimony was accompanied by graphic crime scene photos. Brugger found the bodies of the first two victims, store clerk Mohamed Abdi Warfa and customer Anwar Salah Mohammed lying at the front of the store. A photo of the third victim, Osman Jama Elmi, showed him slumped over a rack of potato chips and a cell phone near his hand. According to the complaint, gunman Mahdi Ali allegedly shot Elmi as the man tried to use the phone.

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Prosecutor Chuck Weber said before Ali left the store he shot the wounded customer Anwar Mohammed lying on the floor at close range in the side of the head. The whole incident took about 61 seconds, he said.

Weber said Ali's alleged accomplice that night will testify later in the trial that he asked Ali why he killed the men. He said Ali told him, "They knew me."

The prosecution said a pair of jeans found in Ali's apartment match the pair worn by the masked gunman caught on video at the store, and that DNA found on the pants matches the blood of one of the victims.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz said he will show that the testimony of the alleged accomplice, Ahmed Abdi Ali — no relation to Mahdi Ali — is unreliable. In his opening statement, Goetz said Ahmed Ali got a "sweetheart deal" from the state in exchange for his testimony. Goetz alleges that Ahmed Ali lied to prosecutors in order to save himself from life in prison and to protect others. The defense attorney said Mahdi Ali was misidentified as the shooter, but does not indicate who the killer might be.

"Misidentification means you got the wrong guy," Goetz said.

Goetz will also challenge the DNA evidence collected by police investigators.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to comment on the trial. Relatives of the three victims were in the courtroom, but declined to comment.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.