Witness says he was reluctant participant

Ahmed Shire Ali
This undated image provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff shows Ahmed Ali, who along with another teenager was charged with murder in the Jan. 6 killings at Seward Market and Halal Meat.
AP Photo/Hennepin County Sheriff
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 prosecution's key witness in the Seward Market triple homicide case testified in Hennepin County District Court on Thursday.

Ahmed Abdi Ali, 19, is tall and slender with a boyish face and a deep voice. He testified that he was a reluctant participant in the Jan. 6, 2010 robbery attempt. Ali said the alleged shooter on trial, Mahdi Hassan Ali - no relation - came up with the plan to rob the store.

He testified that earlier on the day of the shootings, he and Mahdi plus Ahmed's cousin, Abdisalon Ali, drove around to several different places. They stopped at Dahabshiil, a money wiring service used by African immigrants in south Minneapolis. Ahmed said Mahdi wanted to rob the place and get money so he could get his car out of the Minneapolis impound lot. Ahmed said he refused to go along with the plan, and they didn't rob Dahabshiil. After that, Mahdi, who was driving a borrowed car, dropped off the cousin near his house.

Then, Ahmed said Mahdi offered a plan. "Let's do a mission or something," Ahmed said Mahdi suggested. He said Mahdi told him, "I know a place that has a lot of money."

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Ahmed said he didn't want go along with the robbery at first, but he testified that Mahdi would loan Ahmed his car if he agreed. However, they first had to get the money to get the car from the impound lot. Ahmed said Mahdi gave him a black ski mask and instructed him to round up any customers and confine them to the back of the store while Mahdi took care of getting the money.

Ahmed said he wasn't armed. He said he tried to corral two people at the back of the store. One was a frightened woman.

"The woman said, 'Please don't hurt me,' " Ahmed said. "I said, 'I'm not going to hurt you.' "

Ahmed testified he asked the two customers for their cell phones, so they wouldn't call the police. A few seconds later he heard gunshots. Ahmed said he became frightened and ran out of the store, jumping over the bodies of two men on the ground in the doorway.

Ahmed said he ran down the street past the car he arrived in, and had to double-back. He said he was confused and shocked about what happened.

He said Mahdi got in the car right after. The two drove a few blocks away and sat in a parking lot at a Perkins restaurant. Ahmed said he asked Mahdi why he killed the men. He said Mahdi told him, "They knew."

Ali turned himself in to police several days later. He said he did so after he learned the police were looking for him. Ali struck a deal with prosecutors to allow him to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz said that under the deal, Ali will get 18 years in prison, eligible for release in 12 years. Goetz told Ali, 19, that he will still be a young man with much of his life in front of him. The defense attorney was prevented by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill from telling the jury that Ali knew he would face a life sentence with no parole if a deal had not been struck. In arguments held with the jury out of the room, Cahill said that statement would let the jury know that Mahdi Ali also faces a sentence of life without parole and could prejudice the jury.

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