WARNING: This story contains graphic details that may disturb readers. Discretion is advised.
A B.C. jury has found the man accused of killing a young teen girl in a Burnaby park six years ago guilty of first-degree murder.
Ibrahim Ali had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the July 2017 killing. The victim’s identity is protected by a publication ban.
The 12-member jury returned the verdict at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Friday less than 24 hours after deliberations began, concluding a nine-month trial that was fraught with delays and twists.
The jury had returned to the court earlier Friday looking for a clarification on the differences between manslaughter and first- and second-degree murder. Minutes after receiving a detailed answer to their question from Justice Lance Bernard late Friday, the jury reached a verdict.
Bernard had told the jury on Thursday that they could acquit Ali if they felt Crown hadn’t proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, or alternately, find him guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter.
There was no loud explosion of emotion when the verdict was delivered, but tension was palpable in the packed courtroom and extra sheriffs were brought in.
The victim’s father could be seen breathing heavily in the front row of the gallery with her brother and other family members — just a few feet behind Ali.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. The court has yet to set a date for a sentencing hearing.
The trial, which was initially expected to last three months, began on April 5.
The victim had been found partially clothed in a wooded area of Burnaby’s Central Park shortly after midnight on July 19, 2017, just hours after her family reported her missing.
The jury heard from more than 40 witnesses, along with disturbing and difficult evidence including crime scene photos, depicting the girl’s pink wallet and cell phone in the forest, along with a pair of headphones.
Her blue jean shorts and pink underwear had been pulled down, jurors also heard, and semen was found inside her body.
The Crown alleged Ali had grabbed the victim off a trail in the park, likely while she was listening to music.
Prosecutors argued he then sexually assaulted and fatally strangled her before leaving her body in the park.
Jurors also heard from an RCMP forensic biologist who testified the DNA match for the semen was as exact as identical twins.
Ali’s defence lawyer, Kevin McCullogh, did not call any witnesses or present evidence.
Throughout the trial, McCullogh challenged Crown witnesses on a variety of angles, including why some evidence from the scene hadn’t been tested for DNA, and challenging the credibility of a friend of the victim who had described her as a normal teen uninterested in boys.
His theory was that Ali and the teen had had sex, but that someone else killed her and dumped her body in the park.
He told the jury the victim wasn’t the “innocent” depicted in Crown’s “rose-coloured” portrayal. According to testimony, he said, she often avoided her mom’s calls, liked to “endlessly ride SkyTrain” alone, and sometimes fell asleep in the park.
In closing, McCullogh told the jury the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ali had killed the girl and that prosecutors had presented a “crazy” and completely circumstantial theory.
There were no witnesses to the killing, he argued, and the girl had no defensive injuries.
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Justice Bernard’s instructions to the jury this week were delayed by a day after McCullough told the court someone had threatened to kill him and his wife before Christmas, and that police were involved.
The trial was also coloured by the death of a key witness, sexual assault expert Dr. Tracy Pickett, who died before completing cross-examination.
Police said no criminality was suspected in the doctor’s death, but Ali’s defence applied for a mistrial as a result. Bernard dismissed the application, but warned the jury not to speculate on her death and to wipe all of her evidence from their memory.
With files from Rumina Daya and The Canadian Press