Court watches security video on 2nd day of triple murder trial

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

On the second day of the trial of triple homicide suspect Mahdi Hassan Ali, jurors on Tuesday watched security video footage of the event.

The footage, taken from security cameras inside and outside the Seward Market in south Minneapolis on the evening of January 6, 2010, was choppy and had no sound. It shows two men entering the store. The gunman, wearing a hooded winter coat and a bandana covering his face, enters through the front door of the market. He holds a pistol sideways and points it at store employee Osman Elmi and his cousin Mohammed Warfa. Both men raise their hands. The gunman appears to be trying to get the men to lay on the floor of the store when customer Anwar Mohammed walks in. The man with the gun immediately turns the pistol on the customer. The video does not capture the muzzle flash from the gun, but Mohammed falls out of view of the camera.

At that point, Mohammed Warfa chases the gunman out of the store and just out of camera view, he is shot and falls in the doorway. At that point the other accused robber, Ahmed Abdi Ali, runs out of the store, stepping over the two men lying in the doorway.

The security video then shows store employee Osman Elmi walk to the front of the store with a cell phone in his hand. The gunman re-enters the store and chases Elmi out of view. According to police accounts, the gunman shot Elmi in the back and then headed toward the front of the store, pausing briefly to fire another bullet into customer Anwar Mohammed.

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Minneapolis forensic scientist Clifford Johnson testified that investigators copied the video from the store's security system later on the evening of the shootings. He did not testify as to whether the gunman in the video was the accused shooter, Mahdi Ali.

Testimony also included neighborhood resident Peter Fleck. Fleck said he was walking in the alley behind the Seward Market when he heard gunshots. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man in a dark winter coat jogging toward him. Fleck said it appeared the man came out of the front of the market, and that it was too dark for a good look at him. Fleck feared the man was armed and ran away from behind the store and across the street. He returned along an alternate route to the front of the Seward Market to see what happened. Prosecutors played back a recording of his 911 call, in which Fleck breathlessly tells the operator that he could see the bodies of three men inside the store. "There's blood all over," he said.

Relatives of the three victims also testified Tuesday. Basha Salah said his cousin, Anwar Mohammed, was a frequent customer of the market. He says Mohammed often went there to purchase pre-paid phone cards. Mohammed, an immigrant from Ethiopia, was going through the process of bringing his wife to the United States, Salah said.

Jamal Hassan, general manager of the Seward Market, is related to both Osman Elmi and Mohammed Warfa. Hassan choked up as he spoke about the men. Elmi was one of the first employees of the store when it opened in 2007, he said. Hassan said Elmi was a single man who had been planning to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, to get married. He said Warfa was a father of four children who liked to write poetry.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill dismissed a juror on Tuesday for breaking the rules to prevent jurors from interacting with the public during trial. During the morning break, the man stepped out of the jury room and asked the city's video expert, Clifford Johnson, a question about video resolution. Johnson told the judge later that he didn't recognize that the man was a juror. The day before, the same juror had also decided to spend part of the lunch break sitting in the gallery of the courtroom. The jury now has just one alternate juror.