By Carlyn Thompson
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
BUFFALO, N.Y. – A Somali woman covered her face and slumped forward, sobbing, as she testified about the last time she saw her 10-year-old son before his body was found gagged and beaten in the basement of their home. Her husband, the boy’s stepfather, went on trial Monday for murder.
“He told me, ‘Bye, Mom,’” Shukri Bile said through tears after walking prosecutor Thomas Finnerty through her final hour with her son, Abdifatah Mohamud. She last saw him on the afternoon of April 17, when she went by his bedroom to say goodbye on her way out to her cleaning job at an office building in downtown Buffalo, on the border with Canada.
That evening, Ali-Mohamed Mohamud stabbed the child known as Abdi with a kitchen knife, gagged him with a sock, duct-taped his mouth shut, bound his hands with an electrical cord and beat him nearly 70 times with a wooden rolling pin, at one point stopping to switch out socks because the boy had vomited, Assistant District Attorney John Feroleto said during opening statements in Mohamud’s second-degree murder trial.
“Abdi ran away, I’m leaving,” Mohamud told Bile when she returned from work late that night, the prosecutor said. Police responding to the mother’s report of a missing child found him on the floor of the blood-spattered basement. The child’s ribs were broken, his lungs and kidneys damaged and his fractured skull had been struck with enough force to separate it from the spinal column, Feroleto said.
Mohamud, who also is a native of Somalia, was arrested a short time later at The Buffalo News, where he worked as a security guard. He confessed to police, the prosecutor said.
Mohamud’s attorney, Lana Tupchik, said Mohamud denies the accusations and urged jurors not to jump to conclusions.
“There can be no speculation in this criminal case until you hear all of the evidence, all of the rules, all of the law,” Tupchik said as Mohamud, wearing slacks and a striped dress shirt, looked on.
Mohamud later dabbed his eyes as his wife, her head wrapped in a blue scarf, broke down again and again after being called among the trial’s first witnesses.
“I don’t want to see his face but I see him,” she said when asked to point out her husband in the courtroom.
Abdi was born in a hospital in Uganda six days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and arrived in the United States with Bile and her four other children in February 2004, she said. The family had been in a Ugandan refugee camp after fleeing the genocide in Somalia that killed the oldest children’s father, Bile said.
Bile’s oldest son, 24-year-old Hussein Waris, testified that relatives believed Mohamud was a caring stepfather determined to see Abdi do well in school.
“Maybe I’ll see him a scientist one day,” Waris recalled a seemingly proud Mohamud saying about Abdi. Neither he nor his mother said they’d ever seen Mohamud abuse the child.
The first witness was a neighbour who described seeing Abdi running down the street the afternoon he died, his stepfather in pursuit. She pulled over and drove both of them home. She believed Mohamud when he explained that Abdi was trying to get out of doing his homework.
In the driveway, Abdi “kept saying ‘I don’t want to go home,’” said the neighbour, Olive Ndayishimiye. She said she knew Abdi had run away at least once before. Mohamud, she said, seemed “upset and tired” but not angry.
“When you dropped them off, did you have any idea what would happen inside that house?” Feroleto asked.
“No,” Ndayishimiye said quietly.