Wael’s legal team, led by veteran defense lawyer Jason Shapiro and David Zwanetz, attacked the prosecution’s case as unsubstantiated by facts. Wael left the mall without Wasel after waiting for him in the parking lot. He did not, they said, kill his brother.
“There is no motive present for Wael to kill his twin brother, his best friend, and his flesh and blood,” Zwanetz said in his opening statement.
But prosecutors argued that there were 25 minutes that were unaccounted for after Wael left the mall. No cellphone calls. No one interviewed by police had seen him.
By the time Wael was questioned by detectives, his brother had been buried in a white shroud according to Muslim ritual. Jurors watched a videotape of the interview, which took place eight days after Wasel’s body was found.
“Did you kill him?” one detective asks. “Let us help you if you help us. We’ll be helping each other, right?”
Wael sobs loudly. Several times, he denies killing his brother.
“Why do you keep asking me that?” he pleads.
* * *
The case went cold.
Wael spent a couple years in a deep depression. “For a long time, I said that day I died, too,” Wael says. “I stopped caring for a lot of things. I stopped wanting to be happy for a long time.”
In 2009, he moved to the Atlanta area with his mother and sister. They were opening a Mediterranean restaurant, and he was starting college at American Intercontinental University Atlanta. His major: criminology.
“I wanted to know about the criminal mind,” he explains.
That same year, Howard’s cold-case investigator, Nick DeCarlo, was assigned an unsolved crime: the death of Wasel Ali.
DeCarlo reinterviewed Wael’s friends and reviewed cellphone records, trying to pin down what Wael was doing in those unaccounted-for 25 minutes after he left the mall. He thought it was suspicious that after those minutes went by, Wael started repeatedly calling Wasel’s girlfriend and other friends, asking whether anyone knew where his brother was.
In August 2010, Wael agreed to meet with DeCarlo during a visit home to Columbia. The jury listened to a tape of their encounter in a police interrogation room.
“You don’t know what it’s like to lose a twin brother,” Wael tells DeCarlo. “Please do not insult me and come at me as a suspect. I have been through hell and back. . . . There is no reason why I want my brother’s killer to just be out there walking the streets.”
“Neither do I,” DeCarlo replies.