State v. Ali, s. A12–0173

Decision Date08 October 2014
Docket NumberNos. A12–0173,A13–0996.,s. A12–0173
Citation855 N.W.2d 235
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Mahdi Hassan ALI, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, MN, and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jean Burdorf, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, MN, for respondent.

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Lydia Villalva Lijó, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, MN, for appellant.


GILDEA, Chief Justice.

Appellant Mahdi Hassan Ali (Mahdi)1 was convicted of one count of first-degree premeditated murder and two counts of first-degree felony murder for shooting and killing three men during a robbery of the Seward Market in Minneapolis on January 6, 2010.2 We consolidated Mahdi's direct appeal and his postconviction appeal. On appeal, Mahdi raises a series of arguments. First, he challenges the postconviction court's denial of postconviction relief. Second, Mahdi argues that the district court erred by allowing opinion testimony relating to surveillance videos that tended to identify him as the gunman. Third, Mahdi argues that the mandatory imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of release (LWOR) violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment under Miller v. Alabama, –––U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). Fourth, he argues that the district court's discretionary imposition of consecutive sentences violated the rule announced in Miller and Article I, Section 5 of the Minnesota Constitution, and that the district court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences. Fifth, Mahdi raises a number of other claims in a pro se supplemental brief. Because we conclude that the postconviction court did not err, the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings or in imposing consecutive sentences, and Mahdi's pro se arguments lack merit, we affirm on these issues. But because we hold that the mandatory LWOR sentence on the first-degree premeditated murder conviction is unconstitutional under Miller, we vacate that sentence and remand for resentencing on the first-degree premeditated murder conviction following a Miller hearing.

This case arises from an incident that took place on a January night in 2010. At 7:44 p.m., on January 6, two masked men walked into the Seward Market on East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. The first man, who had covered his face with a blue bandana, held a black semiautomatic pistol in his right hand. His accomplice, a taller man whose black-and-white striped shirt poked out from under his winter coat, entered behind him. When the men entered, Osman Elmi, an employee of the market, and Mohamed Warfa, a relative of Elmi's, were sitting behind the store's counter. The man with the gun thrust it in Elmi's face and both Elmi and Warfa put their hands in the air. The man with the gun then pulled Warfa to the ground.

The accomplice went to the back of the store to control a woman who was shopping and an elderly man who had been helping her. When Elmi and Warfa yelled to the woman and the elderly man in the back to call the police, the accomplice demanded in Somali that the man and woman give him their cell phones. The woman lied and said she did not have a cell phone with her. She pleaded with him in Somali, saying “please don't kill us, please, I have children at home, I'm a mother, don't kill us.” The accomplice then hit the elderly man.

Surveillance footage shows that customer Anwar Mohammed then entered the market. As soon as Mohammed entered and saw the robbery in progress, the man with the gun shot him two times, including once in the head. The accomplice started to yell in Somali, “Don't kill” or “No killing!” After shooting Mohammed, the man with the gun ran out of the store. Warfa followed him a short distance before returning to the store. The shooter then reappeared and shot Warfa at least twice. Warfa fell, his body holding the door of the market open and the second robber jumped over him and ran out the door. Elmi, who was still inside the store, fumbled for his cell phone after the two robbers left. Before he could complete the call, the shooter returned and chased Elmi through the store. A rack of snacks tipped over and spilled as the two men raced around a corner, before the shooter shot Elmi three times in the back. Surveillance video shows the shooter leaving the store for good at 7:45 p.m., just over a minute after he entered. All three victims died within minutes of being shot.

As soon as the shooting started and the second robber started to flee, the woman and the elderly man in the back of the store ran and hid in the store's freezer. The woman called 911. She told the 911 operator that there was a robbery at the market, that she had heard gunshots, and that she was in the freezer at the store. She said, “I'm so scared, I'm so scared. I have six children, I don't want to die.” Two Minneapolis police officers responded to the call. As they drove up to the store, they saw two bodies lying in the entryway of the store. When the officers got out of their squad car, they searched the store for the robbers and found a third victim inside. They also found the woman and the elderly man in the freezer, hiding.

A citizen tipster contacted the police department later that night with potentially relevant information. The tipster told police that when he was visiting a friend two weeks earlier at the Seward Towers West apartment building across the street from the market, he ran into a “kid” he knew from the community center. The kid, the tipster said, was talking about committing a robbery and said he wanted to “look into” the Seward Market because it was also a hawala, or money-wiring center, and would presumably have a lot of cash on hand. Although the tipster did not know the kid's name, he told police that he often saw the kid around the apartment building and that the kid drove a black Caprice with a broken window that was parked on the second floor of the building's parking ramp. Minneapolis police sergeants Ann Kjos and Luis Porras, who were assigned to investigate the murders, went to Seward Towers West the night of the murders and found a black Caprice with a broken window. They found out that the parking spot was assigned to apartment 1310, where a woman named Sainab Osman lived with her teenage grandson, Mahdi Ali.

Two days after the murders, on January 8, police received information from another citizen tipster, a high school student. The student said that the day after the murders, a fellow student named Abdisalan Ali (Abdisalan) told him that he had been present during the Seward Market murders. The student said Abdisalan claimed to have gone into the store with “a kid named Mahdi,” that Mahdi had a gun, that Abdisalan was at the back of the store with some customers when he heard a gunshot, and that Abdisalan ran out of the store and had to jump over a body on the floor in front of the doorway.

Police arrested Abdisalan just over two hours after the student tipster came to them, believing that Abdisalan was the man who participated in the robbery by controlling the two customers in the back of the store. Although Abdisalan was initially not forthcoming, he eventually told police that on the day of the murders, he and his cousin, Ahmed Ali (Ahmed), spent time with Ahmed's friend, Mahdi Ali.3 Mahdi picked them up from school in a red Crown Victoria, Abdisalan said, and over the course of the next few hours the three teens went to the Minneapolis impound lot and a SuperAmerica before Mahdi dropped Abdisalan off at home around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m.

Based on that information, police found surveillance video from several stores the three teens visited that afternoon. In the videos from the SuperAmerica, police saw a red Crown Victoria pull up to a gas pump. Someone got out of the passenger seat of the car and entered the store. Once he entered, police could see a black-and-white striped shirt poking out from underneath his jacket. When he turned and looked at one of the surveillance cameras, police immediately noticed that it was not Abdisalan in the black-and-white shirt. After police saw the video, they believed that the person in the SuperAmerica video was not Abdisalan but was the unidentified accomplice at the back of the Seward Market when the shootings happened. The police then asked Abdisalan more questions about his cousin, Ahmed.

Later that night, police also arrested Mahdi. After the police read him his Miranda rights,4 Mahdi denied knowing anything about the murders at the Seward Market. As police slowly confronted him with evidence of his activities with Abdisalan and Ahmed over the day, Mahdi admitted to going to the gas station and the impound lot with Abdisalan and Ahmed, but he never admitted to playing a role in the murders. Police also searched Mahdi's apartment that night, and found blue jeans in his closet with blood, from one of the victims, on the cuff.

After police talked to Abdisalan and ruled him out as a suspect, his cousin, Ahmed, turned himself in to police. Once he had an attorney and worked out a deal with the State,5 Ahmed admitted his role in the murders and verified that he was trying to control the customers in the back of the store when Mahdi started shooting.

From the three men's statements to police, surveillance videos, and witness testimony, police were able to construct a picture of what happened on the afternoon of the murders. On January 6, Mahdi picked Ahmed and Abdisalan up from school in a red Crown Victoria that Mahdi was borrowing from an acquaintance. They went to a gas station so Mahdi could buy something, and then Mahdi dropped the cousins back off at school because Mahdi had to drive the owner of the car to work. Mahdi returned for the cousins 10 to 15 minutes later. The three teenagers then drove to the Wilson's Leather coat factory outlet in North Minneapolis, where Abdisalan stole a faux...

To continue reading

Request your trial
120 cases
  • Nelson v. State, A19-1451
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • July 29, 2020
    ...mandatory imposition of LWOR sentences is constitutional for adults. " Id. at 280–81 (emphasis added) (discussing State v. Ali (Ali I ), 855 N.W.2d 235, 255 n.19 (Minn. 2014) (explaining that Minn. Stat. § 609.106 "is constitutional with respect to almost all of those to whom it applies—adu......
  • State v. Harrison
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • June 22, 2018
    ...of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders convicted under the felony-murder rule); State v. Ali , 855 N.W.2d 235, 258–59 (Minn. 2014) (noting the constitutionality of life sentences for juveniles convicted of felony murder); cf. Dillon , 194 Cal.Rptr. 390......
  • State v. Ali
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • May 17, 2017
    ...he was 16 years old.2 Following a jury trial, he was convicted of three counts of murder that we affirmed on appeal. State v. Ali , 855 N.W.2d 235, 240 (Minn. 2014). He now challenges the district court's imposition of three consecutive sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of......
  • McCullough v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 30, 2017 the number of juvenile lifers in Colorado as zero. And it lists no such juveniles in New Jersey (Zuber) or Missouri (Willbanks). 31. Ali involved a Miller challenge to three consecutive life sentences imposed against a juvenile offender for one count of first degree premeditated murde......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT