Judge Richard Bernhardt Thursday declared a mistrial in the murder trial of Wael Ali, 23, accused of killing his twin brother, Wasel, whose decomposing body was found in August 2007 on a secluded pathway behind Green Meadow Drive in Columbia. A medical examiner said Wasel died of asphyxiation.
The jury passed a note to the judge around 5:40 p.m. after deliberating for 20 hours. The note said that jurors had reviewed and discussed all the evidence in the case and had not reached a verdict. "The jury is deadlocked," the note said.
Before declaring the mistrial, Bernhardt said, "There is no indication to me that they have done anything but work very hard. Asking them to continue will not change the result."
Ali's family reacted with tears. Wael's mother and family members were present in the courtroom every day of the one and a half week trial.
Ali's father said the decision was a setback as he was exiting the courthouse.
"He's innocent, he's innocent," said Ali's father. "It's a battle for any parent to go through this."
The prosecution declined comment, noting that the case is still technically pending. Wael will have a status hearing on April 5 but will remain in custody.
Defense Attorney Jason Shapiro said he wanted to see his client go home with his family today.
"I didn't want him to go back to jail," said Shapiro. "We're just going to do a better job the next time we have to try to the case."
The state hasn't said whether they'll pursue the case again, but Shapiro said he'll start preparing for another trial immediately.
"I believe if everything was laid out before this jury they would have found my client not guilty," said Shapiro. "I believe that the way the cold case investigator handled this case, where he zoned in and locked in on my client, led to an unjust prosecution."
The result came two days after closing arguments in which the prosecution depicted Wael as seeking revenge because his brother got the youths in trouble. The defense said there was no physical evidence to link Wael to the killing.
Wael Ali was charged with first-degree murder in September of 2011, four years after his twin brother’s body was found near a Columbia bike path behind the Merion apartment building.
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.
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, 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. Defense attorney Jason 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.
"They don't care about anything like suspicous men or a simple robbery," said Shapiro, who later added, "My client had no dirt, no wounds, no blood, no marks on his face or body."
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.