Wael Ali’s family and friends cried as he walked out of Howard County Detention Center Monday, declaring he would start a new life.
Outside the jail, he and his mother held a long embrace. He leaned his head against her shoulder and they both cried.
“This is a victory for my family,” said Ali. “This is the start of a new life for me.”
Ali had been held in jail since being charged with the murder of his identical twin brother, Wasel Ali, in September 2011. Wasel was found dead on a secluded Columbia pathway in August of 2007.
On Monday afternoon, prosecutors dropped the charges against Ali at a status conference after a hung jury resulted in a mistrial on March 29. Ali’s defense attorney, Jason Shapiro, confirmed the jury voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal.
“I’m the happiest person on the whole earth right now,” said Ali’s father outside the courthouse. “I believe in the justice system here and that justice prevailed today.”
James Dietrich, a senior state’s attorney, said the state has the option of retrying Ali, but he said officials “don’t foresee anything coming.” He said there was no plan to continue pursuing the case.
“This seemed like the right thing to do,” said Dietrich. “We thought it was a strong circumstantial case, but it was a circumstantial case, we were always up against that.”
He said he could not remember the last time a murder trial in Howard County had resulted in a hung jury. He has been with the state’s attorneys for 14 years.
Shapiro said he and defense attorney David Zwanetz asked prosecutors to re-examine the opinions of the jury.
“We tried to show them, let’s not put [the family] through this again,” said Shapiro. "It was courageous of the state’s attorney’s office to walk away.”
He said that Ali had broken down in jail, at one point requiring psychiatric treatment.
“[Ali] was going to school in Georgia,” said Shapiro. “He was living with his mother, he was helping her run a restaurant they had started. He gets grabbed out of his house in the early morning hours, shackled, handcuffed and brought back to Maryland. He loses his tuition, they lost the family restaurant and he’s in jail facing a life sentence for the killing of his brother. He fell apart.”
Regarding Wasel’s killer, Shapiro said, “There are some cases that will never be solved.”
“That may be the biggest tragedy involved in this case,” said Zwanetz, “That the killer of Wasel Ali will never be known.”
Outside of the jail on Monday afternoon, the sky was bright blue and it was hot enough outside to be mistaken for an August day. Wael Ali walked about 200 feet to greet the crowd of friends and family members there to pick him up. He hugged them all.
“I’m going to finish school,” said Ali, “and just take it day by day and rebuild my relationship with my family and what’s left of my friends.”
The prosecution insisted that Ali had the motive and skill to kill his brother, Wasel. But the defense argued it was an unjust prosecution. The last time the brothers were seen together, the evening of Aug. 22, 2007, they departed in opposite directions from the Columbia Mall.
Wasel was killed by asyphixiation, according to the medical examiner.
During , prosecutors claimed Wael's own words would chip away at his innocence and eventually prove his guilt. Prosecutors rested their case on inconsistencies in Wael's testimony in the days after his brother's death. They had no physical evidence linking Wael to the crime scene or the body, which was found behind the Merion apartment building, except that the brothers used to go there as kids and Wael told friends he had a bad feeling near the Merion shortly after Wasel went missing.
The prosecution insisted to jurors that if they believe Wael was in the woods on Aug. 22, 2007, then he's the killer.
But the defense maintained in that the events leading up to Wasel's death, which included at Wasel's work, were minor, even though the prosecution attempted to use these events to show Ali was capable of murder.
Shapiro argued the police focused too narrowly on Wael at the expense of other leads. He raised concerns about unidentified DNA found on Wasel's wallet and suspicious men seen coming out of the woods where the body was found a few days after investigators allege Wasel was killed.
Wael Ali was arrested in Marietta, GA, in September of 2011 after a cold case investigation led investigators to him. In 2007, both twins lived on the East side of Columbia with their parents. The twins were born in Sudan, but moved to the United States with their family in 1994.
For more on the case, see Patch's previous coverage: