State prosecutors Monday told a judge they would no longer pursue murder charges against Wael Ali, 24, the former Columbia resident accused of killing his twin brother in 2007.
Ali, who'd been charged with first-degree murder, was released later Monday from the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup, where he has been held without bail since his arrest in Georgia seven months ago.
Family members and friends gathered in the Ellicott City courtroom at Monday's hearing burst into tears and began hugging each other as soon as the decision was announced.
Some also hugged the prosecutors in the case as they left the courtroom after the brief hearing.
"We're just relieved and happy," said Weam Ali, the twins' older sister. "It's been a long seven months waiting for this, and we are happy justice has prevailed."
The body of Wasel Ali, 19, was discovered on Aug. 27, 2007 in a wooded area of Clary's Forest in Columbia, where police said the twins had played as children. The 2006 Wilde Lake graduate had suffered a neck injury and died of asphyxiation after suffocating due to several minutes of pressure around his neck, investigators determined.
Family members did not believe Wael killed his brother, and prosecutors failed to convince jury members of Wael's guilt during his murder trial in Howard County Circuit Court last month.
The 12-member jury failed to reach a verdict, causing Judge Richard S. Bernhardt to declare a mistrial.
Jason Shapiro, Ali's defense attorney, said he was told the jurors voted 11 to 1 against convicting Ali of killing his twin, a "skewed" number that bolstered Shapiro's argument to prosecutors that Wael would be found not guilty if tried again.
"We were feeling very confident that a jury would not hold Mr. Ali responsible for the death of his brother," Shapiro said.
Shapiro and prosecutors negotiated on a possible plea agreement, but no deal was deemed acceptable by both sides, Shapiro and prosecutors said.
Shapiro said he had urged prosecutors not to put the Ali family — including Wael, who "fell apart in jail" after being charged with killing his "best friend and twin" — through another trial.
Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich said he decided not to retry Ali after speaking with many of the jurors in the first trial, who said they had issues with the prosecution's case that Dietrich knew he was unable to resolve.
"We came to the decision that we couldn't present a better case than we did," Dietrich said.
Ali's release is likely to mark the end of prosecutors' work on his brother's murder investigation.
Dietrich said he does not foresee any new charges' being filed.
"The case went cold for a reason," he said of the challenges of forming a strong case in a years-old murder.
Shapiro said it's unlikely now that Wasel Ali's murderer will ever be brought to justice.
"There's some cases that will never be solved," he said.
David Zwanetz, another defense attorney, said that likelihood "may be the biggest tragedy in this entire case."