For four hours, detectives turned to the one person closest to Wasel Ali, who could help them unravel why the 19-year-old had disappeared on Aug. 22, 2007, and why his body was found in a wooded area in Clary's Forest five days later.
Ali's twin brother, Wael, sat with two investigators Sept. 4 in an Ellicott City interview room. He was not a suspect — but the teenager left the detectives increasingly frustrated. They felt his stories were inconsistent, his answers at times incomplete.
"Don't hold back on any information," one detective said. "Our job is to find out who killed your brother, and you are a wealth of information."
Later during the interview, a detective asked Wael if he had killed his brother.
Wael Ali, now 24, sat in Howard County Circuit Court on Wednesday, listening to a recording of three hours of that interview. He had been arrested in September and is on trial on one count of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors turned much of their case on Wednesday, the second day of the trial, to that recording and one of the detectives on it, Cpl. Clay Davis. Later in the day, the prosecution called to the witness stand one of the brothers' best friends, Jonathan LoFrisco, one of the last people to see Wasel before he disappeared.
Elements of LoFrisco's testimony recalled many of the key points prosecutor Doug Nelsen made in his opening statement. LoFrisco spoke of how the twins would demonstrate combat moves they had learned in military training, submission holds involving "choking and grabbing and taking arms away."
Wasel died from a neck injury, medical examiner Ana Rubio testified earlier in the trial. Nelsen said this was not done with a weapon, but with bare hands. And Wasel's dress jacket had been pulled behind him, his arms trapped, he said.
LoFrisco, who worked at the Columbia mall at the time, had seen and spoken with the brothers Aug. 22 at the mall. Wael went to the mall early that evening to pick Wasel up. Less than 90 minutes after leaving the mall, Wael called LoFrisco, upset about not being able to find Wasel. He called his friend several more times that night.
While Howard County police searched for Wasel over the next several days, so did Wael, LoFrisco and others. LoFrisco said Wael kept bringing them back to a field, basketball court and playground near the Club Merion Apartments in the 12200 block of Green Meadow Drive, an area where the boys had grown up and often played.
"Wael suggested that we continue to go to the Merion, look around the Merion. He said he had a feeling, this feeling about the Merion," LoFrisco testified. "I couldn't really understand why. It was a small area."
Wasel's body would be discovered in a wooded area nearby, off a paved path and down a dirt trail. The search never went in that direction, said LoFrisco, who was one of several friends of the brothers scheduled to testify Thursday.
Wael had said he was too distraught when detectives first tried to speak with him in-depth about his brother's death. Days later, his father took him to police headquarters for a voluntary interview, Davis testified.
Wael first spoke of meeting Wasel at the mall to pick him up. They had stopped for some time at a kiosk, speaking with LoFrisco and others, before Wael walked out to the parking lot.
"Wasel said he'd be there," Wael told the detectives. "He never came."
The investigators soon confronted Wael about inconsistencies in his story; Wael said he had waited for about 10 minutes, but surveillance camera footage showed him pulling away nearly immediately at 6:47 p.m.
Wael said his brother often took too long, that he had gone to a friend's home in Clary's Forest to wait. That friend, police later said, told investigators that Wael had actually arrived at about 8:30 p.m.
Wael told detectives that Wasel "said he'd take care of something," but did not say what it was. Police pressed Wael to give more details, names of people Wasel might have been going to meet, or others he thought could have been involved in his brother's disappearance and death.
Wael offered a few suggestions over the hours. Police asked why it was taking so long to get answers. He soon broke down and cried.
In court Wednesday, Wael, who followed along by reading a transcript, cradled his head in his left hand, then put his hand over his mouth, then his eyes.
"I didn't have anything to do with it," Wael told police in the recording.
Later in the interview, police posed a question that had been brought up at least twice before.
"Did you kill your brother?" a detective said.
"No," Wael responded.