An artist visiting the District to work on an exhibit at George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design was slain in her basement apartment by a homeless man, a jury concluded Wednesday.
During an emotional four-week trial in D.C. Superior Court, attorneys for El Hadji Alpha Madiou Toure offered various explanations for evidence linking him to the rape and stabbing of Corrina Mehiel. They argued that DNA evidence found at the crime scene was the result of a laboratory mix-up. And they said that Toure, who lived in various District shelters, had a romantic relationship with the victim, which also could have explained the presence of his DNA on her body.
But after two days of deliberations, the jury rejected the defense attorneys’ assertions and found Toure, 30, guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder, first-degree sexual abuse, robbery and other charges related to Mehiel’s slaying in March 2017
Mehiel, 34, had driven to Washington, excited to work on an exhibit at the Corcoran. She had spent much of her career on environmental art, using such items as abandoned bicycles and broken parking meters, as well as crafting pieces that drew attention to water contamination.
“Corrina Mehiel was full of energy and passion. She saw beauty where others didn’t. She was just three days shy of celebrating her 35th birthday. But the defendant took away her hopes and promise, raping and murdering her in her bedroom and abandoning her devastated body, leaving his DNA,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessi Brooks told the jury during her closing arguments.
The U.S. attorney’s office took an unusual approach with this case. Instead of having two homicide prosecutors try the case, the office teamed Brooks, who has specialized in sexual assault prosecutions, with her colleague Jeff Nestler, who specializes in homicide cases.
Brooks told the jury that as Mehiel was wrapping up work on the D.C. exhibit and preparing to return to her North Carolina home, her colleagues were unable to reach her. They found her dead in her apartment, her legs tied with black stretch pants.
Toure’s DNA was found on Mehiel’s body and on the leggings, authorities said. Mehiel’s DNA was detected inside Toure’s backpack, which authorities found at the time of his arrest. Authorities said a security video showed Toure repeatedly using Mehiel’s bank card, over at least two days, to withdraw $2,300. They said he used $1,300 to buy a used car.
“This is every person’s worst nightmare,” Brooks said.
Prosecutors say Toure watched Mehiel packing up her car in the late morning of March 20, 2017. He then managed to push himself into her apartment where for more than two hours, prosecutors said, he assaulted her. A medical examiner testified she was stabbed 39 times in her neck with a knife. Her body was found next to her bed, under a pile of clothes.
During the trial, members of Mehiel’s family filled up six rows. When graphic crime scene and autopsy photos were shown to the jury, several of the victim’s relatives began crying and walked out of the courtroom.
Toure, who has been in jail in the District since his arrest, could face life in prison when he is sentenced June 7 by D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet McKenna.