Wael Ali

Wael Ali, the former Columbia resident accused of killing his twin brother in 2007 (March 20, 2012)

Whether Wael Ali is guilty of murdering his twin brother, Wasel, could come down to one question.

"If you have him in the woods on Aug. 22, 2007," said prosecutor Doug Nelsen, "then he's the killer."

But one of Ali's defense attorneys said there are far more questions than that — reasons the 24-year-old former Columbia resident should be found not guilty.

Those are the arguments the jury of nine men and three women will consider in their deliberations, which began Tuesday afternoon following closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorney Jason Shapiro.

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The trial began March 20 at Howard County Circuit Court in Ellicott City, more than four and a half years after Wasel, then 19, was found dead in a wooded area of Clary's Forest in Columbia on Aug. 27, 2007, five days after he disappeared.

Ali is charged with one-count of first-degree murder. The jury has the option of finding him guilty on lesser charges, such as second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, or finding him not guilty on all counts.

Prosecutors do not have a murder weapon, forensic evidence linking Wael to Wasel's death, or any witnesses to the crime. But they assert that Wael strangled his brother, point to evidence that suggests he lied to friends and police about it, and say that his words and actions are key.

What Wael said and did after Wasel disappeared, including leading a search for his brother within hours of the last time he had seen him, were meant to cover up his guilt, prosecutors said, but served instead to be his undoing and implicate him.

"On the one hand he couldn't admit to what he'd done," said prosecutor James Dietrich. "But on the other hand, he wanted his brother's body to be found."

'Wrath of brothers'

Dietrich led his closing argument with a proverb: "The wrath of brothers is fierce and devilish."

He then laid out his case for how Wasel bore the brunt of Wael's wrath over legal trouble that not only had affected the two of them, but had led to both the brothers and their father being handcuffed while police executed a search warrant on their Long Reach house on the morning of Aug. 22.

That search stemmed from a case out of Northern Virginia, in which Wael and Wasel were accused of impersonating police officers while pretending to be security guards at a club in Clarendon. After the police raid, Wasel was unexpectedly called into work at the Columbia mall — he would be interviewed, then fired, for allegedly stealing from his job at the Banana Republic.

Wael arrived at the mall to pick Wasel up nearly three hours later, at 5:48 p.m., though both remained at the mall speaking with friends before leaving in opposite directions at about 6:47 p.m.

Dietrich noted what he said appeared to be an unfriendly parting, Wael coming to the mall to get Wasel but Wasel not going with him. He showed surveillance camera footage of Wael walking to a gold minivan and driving off immediately, while Wasel could be seen exiting the mall elsewhere. That video showed Wael driving around the mall and turning in the direction from which Wasel was coming, he said.

"He couldn't have missed him," Dietrich said.

There was no evidence of where Wael was for the next 25 minutes, when he made a 7:12 p.m. phone call that cell phone records show came from east Columbia near Stonecutter Road in Long Reach.

Prosecutors had a theory, however.

Dietrich said Wael drove to Clary's Forest, to the Club Merion Apartments in the 12200 block of Green Meadow Drive, an area with a field, basketball court and playground where the boys had grown up and played.

"They were going to hash out their differences," he said. "It doesn't seem like it was much of a fight."