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Mahdi Hassan Ali guilty on 4 counts in Minneapolis triple homicide

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Abdi Mohammed Warfa
Abdi Mohammed Warfa, who's related to two of the victims of the Seward Market shooting, speaks to members of the media outside of Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, Minn. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williamss

Mahdi Hassan Ali was found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder today by a Hennepin County jury.

The jury found Ali guilty of killing three men during a failed robbery attempt at the Seward Market in Minneapolis last year.

The crime was the city's first triple homicide since 1996, and shocked the Somali community. 

The courtroom was packed, as it had been daily during the trial, with Somalis and other East African immigrants. Many of them are related to the slain men — a few related to the accused killer. As Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read the first guilty verdict, one of the victims' relatives silently and discretely pumped his right arm in celebration.

Ali faced two counts for each man he killed: one count of first degree, premeditated murder and one count of murder in the first degree while committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery. 

The jury found Ali guilty of first degree murder in four of the six charges.  For the other two, they found Ali guilty of second degree murder - meaning that they didn't find the killings of Anwar Mohammed and Mohamed Warfa to be premeditated.  

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Robert Streitz was unsurprised the jury split their verdicts the manner they did. Streitz said it can be difficult to prove premeditation in a killing.

"I can understand why the jury would view the evidence in the way they did. And we accept that. I am pleased though that at least with respect to Osman Elmi that they found his killing to be premeditated."

Security video shows Ali chasing Elmi through the store. Ali shot Elmi in the back three times.

Abdi Mohammed Warfa, cousin to two of the victims in the Seward Market shootings, was present in the courtroom as the judge read the guilty verdicts.

"We do think the verdict was justice," Warfa said.

Warfa said the families were a little disappointed the jury didn't reach their verdicts on Thursday, but he understands the system had to run its course.  Ultimately the verdict is just one part of the healing process, Warfa said. "The pain and the grief it lasts a lifetime. It's not something you can overcome — because of this verdict it's a lasting pain and grief," Warfa said. "But we'll keep them in our memory and we'll make sure that we have fond memories and we'll live with that."

Mahdi Ali deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, Warfa said, but Ali will face more punishment in the next life.

"I'm a Muslim man, we believe in second life.  So what is waiting for him the day of judgement is a lot more."

However, some left the courtroom feeling that justice was not done. Mahdi Ali's aunt, Ayan Abukar, helped raise him. She says she's sorry for the family of the victims. Ali deserves another chance, But Abukar said, because he, like the other young man involved in the robbery, is a teenager.

"I feel the verdict was unfair because they are juvenile. Especially our son. He came with birthdate that's not his own," she said. "He come with other family.  He didn't come with his true name.  He didn't come with his own mom.  Other family bring him into United States with fake name, with fake birthdate."

Abukar refers to a controversy behind Mahdi Ali's age and identity.  Ali's mother, Sainab Osman stood next to Abukar. In previous court testimony, Osman said that Ali's real name is Khalid Arrasi. Osman said she was too sick to care for her son after he was born, so she gave him to distant relatives.  But another couple brought her son to the U.S. and abandoned him in Minnesota. Osman said they changed his name to Mahdi Ali and gave him a new birthdate.

Abukar says Ali was 15 at the time of the robbery, not 17 as was on his driver's license. Ali should have been tried in juvenile court, Abukar said. The family will file an appeal based on the age dispute.

"That's why we're feeling this is not fair. Not fair verdict," Abukar said. "Even if he did, he's a child so he has to go to the juvenile."

In June, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Ali could stand trial as an adult.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz said he will seek a jury trial to settle the matter of Ali's age. Goetz contends that it may be unconstitutional to sentence a person who was 15 at the time of their crime to life in prison without parole.

Ali is scheduled to be sentenced to life a month from now