In the opening statements of the State vs. Wael Ali, prosecutors said Wael Ali’s own words would be used against him in his trial on charges he killed his twin brother, Wasel. The defense asked jurors not to get caught up in theories and to demand hard evidence.
The state’s case rests on the theory that Wael Ali, 23, took his twin brother to a secluded path in Columbia sometime after 6:45 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2007 after the brothers were last seen parting ways at Columbia mall. Wael was seen on a surveillance video driving off by himself.
During that time, said prosecutor Doug Nelsen, Wael had enough time to strangle his twin brother before he called friends around 7:15 p.m. and told them Wasel was missing.
Nelsen said the twins had learned chokehold maneuvers during Army training. He said it would take about 20 seconds for a person to go unconscious from the type of chokehold investigators believe killed Wasel, but about three to four minutes to kill someone, according to Nelsen.
Nelsen told the jurors to picture Wael Ali “squeezing and squeezing and squeezing until there’s no life left in Wasel Ali.” Wasel’s body was found on Aug. 27 in the same clothes he was seen wearing in a mall surveillance video.
Nelsen said that before Wasel’s killing, the boys were arrested in Arlington, VA, for impersonating police officers.
Wasel allegedly told police the twins had a gun in their car, which police recovered. The twins were charged with a misdemeanor, but Wael was allegedly angry with his brother, according to Nelsen. Wael told Wasel he was “done” with Wasel getting him trouble, according to Nelsen.
Key to the prosecution's case are a series of interviews conducted by investigators with Wael after Wasel’s body was found. Nelsen said Wael’s memory of the events of that day changed multiple times.
“His own words are going to be his undoing,” said Nelsen. He said Wael had taken friends to the area where Wasel’s body was found shortly after Wasel went missing and told them he had a bad feeling around the Marion.
“He desperately wanted the body to be found,” said Nelsen, “but he couldn’t be the one to find it.”
Defense attorney David Zwanetz presented a wholly different argument. He told the jurors the twins had spent their lives together, sleeping in the same bed as children and in the same room as teens.
They shared a fascination with the military and law enforcement, which Zwanetz said they inherited from their father, a retired colonel from the Sudanese military. The twins were born in Sudan, but emigrated to the United States in 1994.
In the early morning of Aug. 22, 2007, the Alis’ Columbia home was searched by Howard County and Arlington police after the twins were arrested days before for impersonating police officers in Arlington, VA.
Zwanetz said the twins and their father were handcuffed and placed against a wall, the door to their home was knocked down and a SWAT team searched the house.
“The boys idolized Howard County police” before that incident, said Zwanetz.
He said that later that day Wael was sent to pick up Wasel at Columbia Mall from his job at Banana Republic. Zwanetz said the twins talked at the mall, but left from separate exits and never saw each other again.
“Try to imagine the pain you’d feel if you lost a brother, a sister, a child,” said Zwanetz, “This is real emotional pain. This was magnified for Wael—this was his best friend. He can’t even look in the mirror without being reminded of Wasel.”
Zwanetz noted the state has charged Wael with first-degree murder, which requires premeditation.
“There’s no motive for Wael to kill his best friend and brother,” said Zwanetz, “This is an unjust prosecution of an innocent man.”
The witness who discovered Wasel Ali’s body on a dirt path in Columbia testified that he saw two suspicious looking men exiting the pathway days before.
Stephen Calamia said he was on a walk behind his apartment on Aug. 27, 2007 when he discovered the body of Wasel Ali lying next to a dirt path connected to a paved Columbia trail behind the 12000 Block of Green Meadow Drive.
Calamia said he had seen two suspicious-looking men exiting the pathway around 2 a.m. on Aug. 24. He said he was parking his motorcycle at the top of the cul-de-sac, when he saw them emerging, and ducked down to crawl toward his apartment. He watched them enter their vehicle, took down their license plate number and later notified police of what he had seen.
“It was all very strange,” said Calamia. “Their demeanor, their heads were hung low and they were walking quickly, with purpose.”
Ana Rubio, the state medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Wasel, testified cause of death was a break of the cricoid cartilage in the lower neck. However, she said she could not determine the method used to kill. She said she declared Wasel’s death a homicide after taking into account circumstantial evidence provided by police, after a question from the defense.
When pictures of Wasel’s body were shown on a television screen, Wael stared down at the table in front of him; a few members of his family were crying. Wael wore a black jacket and white shirt.
Testimony by Howard County Police officer Clay Davis is expected to take up a large part of the morning on Wednesday.
*This article has been updated from the original version published at 1:31 p.m. Tuesday to include witness testimony.