Mahdi Hassan Ali was only a teenager when he and an accomplice entered into the Minneapolis Seward Market on January 6, 2010. Employees Osman Elmi and Mohamed Warfa had both been sitting behind the counter when a semi-automatic pistol had been shoved in their faces and Warfa was thrown to the ground. The store clerks immediately yelled for customers to call the police.
At the back of the store were an elderly man and a female shopper. Ali’s accomplice demanded their cellphones. They lied and said they didn’t have one. The woman pleaded in Somoli with the second robber not to hurt them because she had six children at home. Ali’s accomplice then beat the elderly man.
As this occurred, a third shopper, Anwar Mohammed, unknowingly walked into the robbery attempt. The moment he entered the store Ali shot him twice, one of those shots hitting him directly in the head. His accomplice yelled at Ali and told him not to kill anyone and the pair fled the store. Several minutes later they returned and Ali shoots Warfa. Elmi grabbed his cellphone and attempted to call for help when the robbers chase him around the store, knocking over a candy display in the process, before he was shot three times.
The woman and the elderly man at the back of the store had no choice but to hide in a storage freezer and call 911. The woman begged with the 911 dispatcher to have police at the store immediately. Police arrive a short while later to find the three bodies and to free the two customers hiding in the freezer.
Just days after the murders police had a solid lead on Ali being the suspect. Store surveillance, as well as surveillance footage from other stores in the area, were taken as evidence in the case. In order to analyze this footage, police called in the help of an outside agency.
This agency is one most of us, at least most of us here in the United States, are familiar with. It’s a little known fact that Target Corp., the big box retail chain, possesses one of the most sophisticated video processing labs in the country. When they’re not investigating shoplifters and other crimes that had taken place within their own stores, police and federal agencies contract the company for help in analyzing video footage taken in as evidence in other cases. Often Target agrees to take on these cases free of charge as a way to give back to the community.
Target’s video lab is one of roughly two dozen private organizations who have received accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Their forensic analyst Jake Steinhour has worked on a number of high-profile cases around the country, including the Ali case. Using Target’s state of the art video labs, Steinhour was able to match a pair of light colored jeans in the footage of the masked suspects with a pair of jeans police found in Ali’s possession.
Steinhour later played an integral role in Ali’s conviction and testified during his trial. Ali has been ordered to serve life in prison without possibility of parole, though Ali’s defense is attempting to have that ruling appealed on the grounds of Ali’s young age at the time.
Ali’s ID said he was 17-years-old when he had been arrested several days after committing the fatal robbery. He now claims that the ID was fake and he had actually been 15-years-old. According to Ali’s defense, sentencing a young teen to life in prison without parole was, “cruel and unusual punishment.” Whether or not that’s the case, the perpetrators of this senseless crime may have never been found if not for the help of some vigilant citizens and Target’s forensic labs.