Defense challenges witness in 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

A teenager who was with the man on trial for a triple homicide hours before the Seward Market shootings last year testified Wednesday that he didn't participate in the crime. His story was challenged by the defense in Hennepin County District Court.

The testimony came on day three in the trial of the alleged murderer of three men, Jan. 6, 2010 at Seward Market in south Minneapolis.

The crime was the city's first triple homicide since 1996. The violence shocked the Somali community. However, police officials say the brutal nature of the crimes may have inspired Somalis to come forward with information about the case. They say without cooperation from the community, it may have taken them a lot longer to arrest the suspects. Mahdi Hassan Ali is charged with six counts of first degree murder.

Abdisalon Ali was 16 years old at the time of the shootings. He testified that he and his teenage cousin, Ahmed Ali, were picked up from school by accused killer Mahdi Ali on the afternoon of the shootings. Mahdi was driving a red Ford Crown Victoria.

Abdisalon Ali and Ahmed Ali are cousins. Neither Abdisalon Ali or Ahmed Ali is related to Mahdi Ali. Ahmed Ali has pleaded guilty to first degree robbery, and has agreed to testify against Mahdi.

Abdisalon Ali said the three drove to a Burlington Coat store. He says he stole a black coat and gave the gray, hooded winter jacket he was wearing to Mahdi Ali.

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The prosecuting attorney, Robert Streitz, showed Abdisalon a still photo from the security camera video captured in the Seward Market during the robbery. The gunman in the photo is wearing a similar gray coat. "I recognize the jacket," Abdisalon said. "I don't recognize who's wearing it. But I gave it to Mahdi."

Abdisalon Ali said he wasn't at the market the night of the shootings. He said Mahdi Ali dropped him off at home. Abdisalon said he stayed at home with his family.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz confronted Abdisalon with conflicting claims he said was made by one of his classmates.

"On the morning of Jan. 7, you told (classmate) Abshir that it was you and Mahdi who decided to rob the store?" Goetz asked.

"No," replied Abdisalon.

"Didn't you tell Abshir you were going to kill Mahdi because you were afraid he might talk?" Goetz continued.

"No," said Abdisalon.

Goetz asked Abdisalon about other details of the crime that the classmate claimed Abdisalon told him. He continued to question him, "Can you explain how Abshir would know all this about the robbery?"

Abdisalon said he didn't know, but said he and his classmate had had an "issue" sometime before the crime. However, he didn't say if he thought that their conflict would cause that person to lie about him.

Prosecuting attorney Robert Streitz pointed out that Abdisalon cooperated with the shooting investigation, and was not arrested or charged with any crime connected to the robbery. Video from inside the market shows two masked robbers, not three, entered the store.

Goetz questioned Abdisalon about his relationship with his cousin Ahmed and with Mahdi. Goetz asked Abdisalon, "If you had a family member in need you would do what you could to help them?"

"Yes," replied Abdisalon.

"Ahmed is part of your clan (extended family)?" Goetz asked.

"Yes," Abdisalon replied.

"Mahdi is not part of your clan, right?" Goetz said.

"No," Abdisalon said.

Goetz went through a transcript of a police interview in which Abdisalon said he and Mahdi "didn't get along."

The prosecution also called a man to testify who claims Mahdi Ali confessed to him about the shootings while the two were locked up in Carver County Jail last year. Leandro Garcia said the two were watching the television show "The First 48." The reality TV show follows homicide detectives as they investigate cases. Garcia said Ali was critical of a murder suspect on the show. "In one of the shows a guy was carrying a gun without wearing gloves," said Garcia. "Mahdi says that was a mistake."

Garcia said Ali proceeded to tell him, without being asked, about how he killed the three men at the Seward Market. He said Ali told him that the market contained a money wiring service and kept thousands of dollars in a safe under the counter. Garcia also said Ali told him that the other robber brought the gun. The accomplice is Ahmed Ali, who confessed to taking part in the robbery in exchange for a lesser sentence. Garcia said Ali told him the gun came from Ahmed Ali's brother's room.

Garcia didn't mention the brother's name, but Ahmed Ali has an older brother named Abdirahman Ali. Several months after the Seward Market shootings, Abdirahman was arrested by Minneapolis police after they found a stolen gun in a car he was riding in with three other men. That gun was one of 14 firearms stolen from a St. Louis Park gun store just a few weeks before the Seward Market shootings. Police investigators have linked another gun stolen from that store, a Springfield Armory XD40 .40 caliber pistol, to the Seward Market killings.

Police never found the gun used in the shootings. But they say casings from the scene match the .40 caliber gun. Police released Abdirahman Ali without charges.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz questioned Garcia's credibility. Garcia has three felony convictions, and Goetz asked him if his cooperation is winning him some favor with law enforcement authorities. But Garcia said he has not asked for or received any benefit for his testimony.

Goetz asked him if he expected the jury to believe "this complete stranger confessed his part in three murders to you?"

Another prosecution witness, Mohamed Galony, testified that two weeks before the shootings, Mahdi Ali told him he was thinking of robbing the store. Galony said he'd seen Ali around at the Brian Coyle Center a couple times and admitted that he didn't learn his name until later.

Again, Goetz was incredulous. "This guy, that you didn't know his name, told you about his plan to rob the market?"

Then Goetz asked Galony about his clan affiliation.

"Why does that matter?" snapped Galony.

Goetz asked again until Galony said that he is Daarood. Goetz said that's the same clan as Mahdi Ali's accomplice, Ahmed Ali. Galony said he was friends with Ahmed Ali's older brother, though he didn't offer a name.

Prosecutors are expected to call Ahmed Ali, the accomplice in the robbery, to testify during the trial.