By David Greisman, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:47 PM EDT, March 29, 2012
The case of a former Columbia resident accused of killing his twin brother four-and-a-half years ago ended in a mistrial early Thursday evening.
Wael Ali, 24, had been charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Wasel Ali, who was 19 when his body was discovered Aug. 27, 2007, in a wooded area of Clary's Forest in Columbia. Wasel had died from asphyxiation, suffering a neck injury and suffocating after what prosecutors said was several minutes of pressure.
The jury sent a note to Judge Richard S. Bernhardt at around 5:30 p.m. stating that, "We are deadlocked and do not think further deliberation will bring us to a unanimous decision." The jury also said it could not reach a verdict on any of lesser counts, which included second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
A few minutes before 6 p.m., the jury, which deliberated the verdict for 18 hours over the course of three days, returned to the courtroom and the case was declared a mistrial.
The state has not decided whether to retry Wael, according to T. Wayne Kirwan, spokesman for the Howard County State's Attorney's Office.
Wael, who was arrested in September of last year, will remain at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. A status conference has been scheduled for April 5.
"I'm disappointed. I wanted my client to go home to his family today," defense attorney Jason Shapiro said. "I didn't want him to have to go back to jail."
He added: "Obviously, the state was persuasive enough to convince at least one juror of their version of the facts. I believe if everything was laid out in front of the jury they would have found my client not guilty."
Prosecutors said they had no comment because the case is still considered pending.
The trial lasted eight days. The jury had to decide whether the prosecution's case was convincing, whether Wael's seemingly suspicious words and actions after his brother had disappeared and then was found dead were enough to overcome the lack of any forensic evidence implicating him in the crime.
Prosecutors asserted that Wasel bore the brunt of Wael's wrath over recent legal trouble that had not only affected the two of them, but had led to both brothers and their father being handcuffed while police executed a search warrant on their Long Reach home on the morning of Aug. 22. The brothers had recently been cited in Northern Virginia for allegedly impersonating police officers while pretending to be security guards at a club in Clarendon.
Later on Aug. 22, Wael went to pick up Wasel from the Columbia mall. Surveillance cameras captured the brothers leaving from opposite ends of the mall. Wasel was never seen alive again.
Less than half an hour after leaving the mall, Wael began to call Wasel's girlfriend and the brothers' friends, looking for him in a state that those friends testified as "frantic" and out of character for him. Wael led searches for Wasel that night, including twice in the area of the Club Merion Apartments, in the 12200 block of Green Meadow Drive, where Wasel's body would be found days later.
The boys had grown up in that neighborhood, playing at the field, basketball court and playground next to the apartment building. Wael told friends he had "a bad feeling" about that area.
Detectives investigating Wasel's death found Wael's stories to be inconsistent and incomplete, and saw the way and reasons he searched for his brother to be suspicious.
But Shapiro countered the prosecution's case with what he said were numerous unanswered questions that would raise reasonable doubts as to Wael's guilt. There was no physical evidence linking Wael to the wooded area, he said.
As the brothers were identical twins, the DNA on Wasel's wallet was probably Wasel's, not Wael's — and there was also DNA belonging to an unidentified person, he said.
Shapiro mentioned the testimony of the Clary's Forest man who found Wasel's body. A couple of nights before then, Stephen Calamia had seen suspicious people coming from the woods "walking quite solemnly."
And police had failed to rule out other possible suspects, the defense attorney said.
Prosecutors countered that the undigested food in Wasel's stomach showed he had died the evening he disappeared, not days later when Calamia saw those men. Investigators had spoken to other possible suspects, they said, but it was Wael who was not giving them straight answers.