FBI special agent, Garad Roble's mother testify in Abukar murder trial

Dec. 7—The trial of a Rochester man charged in the killing of a 28-year-old man almost two years ago is now in its fifth day as prosecutors continued to call witnesses Monday.

Muhidin Abukar, 32, is charged in Olmsted County District Court with aiding and abetting second-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Garad Hassan Roble.

Roble was found dead by a passing motorist at about 3:45 a.m. March 5, 2019, on 45th Street Southeast, between St. Bridget Road Southeast (County Road 20) and Simpson Road (County Road 1). Roble had been shot 11 times — including four times in the head and three times in each arm. No exact time of death was determined.

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Witnesses take stand in Rochester murder trial

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First to take the stand Monday morning was FBI special agent Daniel Harris, a member of the bureau's cellular analysis and survey team.

A large portion of the state's case relies on cellphone data and surveillance footage that places Abukar and Roble, as well as a third man, Ayub Abucar Hagi Iman, together in the hours before Roble's body was discovered. Iman is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Roble's death. His trial is scheduled to begin in early 2022.

Cellphone data explained

For more than an hour, Harris testified about what data gathered from the cell tower showed about the men's whereabouts during March 4 and into the early morning hours of March 5. Defense attorneys for Abukar have questioned other witnesses about whether through the data they could show who possessed the phones during the timeframe law enforcement tracked them. None of the witnesses has been able to definitively say they could.

That issue was a point of contention during the testimony of Olmsted County Sheriff's detective Chad Winters. Defense attorneys for Abukar repeatedly objected when Winters would say that data showed Abukar moving locations rather than his cellphone.

Harris' testimony relied on historical cell site analysis, which is network activity data that all major cellphone providers are mandated by law to keep. Things such as phone calls and text messages are tracked and which cell towers are being used to complete those actions is recorded.

That information can then be used to determine the geographical location of a cell phone. Using the cell phone records obtained from providers including T-Mobile and Verizon for Abukar, Roble and Iman's phone, jurors saw the movements of the three men's phones.

Through the data, Harris testified that Roble's phone left a Crystal Bay Court Southwest residence belonging to Abukar's then-girlfriend at 2:09 a.m. March 5. His phone then moved to the area where his body was located and did not move from there.

Using data from Abukar's phone, Harris testified that Abukar's phone in the area of the same Crystal Bay Court residence as Roble's at about 2 a.m.

Abukar's phone was also tracked at 2:27 a.m. heading to another person's residence and then about 20 minutes later in the area of the Elton Hills Drive Northwest bridge, according to Harris' testimony. A Glock handgun was found on top of the frozen Zumbro River in that area on March 8. Harris said Abukar's phone then returned to the earlier residence before ultimately returning to the Crystal Bay Court area about 3:42 a.m. March 5.

Harris also testified on data from two phones taken from Iman. That data, Harris said, showed Iman's phone in the area of where Roble's body was discovered about 2:15 a.m. March 5.

Through Winters' testimony, jurors watched videos created with cellphone data — both from the phones as well as from the cellphone provider — that showed the movements of the men's phones. Winters testified that Abukar's phone was seen moving around 2:01 a.m. in the area of Mill Road and Bamber Valley Road.

A number of data points continued, putting Abukar's phone traveling east on 16th Street Southeast near the intersection of 11th Avenue or Olmsted County Road 1 Southeast, according to Winters' testimony. No data points were created again until about 2:24 a.m. when Abukar's phone was tracked traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 52 near Sixth Street.

Pairing the cellphone data with Minnesota Department of Transportation surveillance cameras from U.S. Highway 52, jurors saw in real time what law enforcement believed was the suspect vehicle carrying the phones of Abukar and Iman following Roble's death.

Winters admitted that law enforcement did not have video of any of the men — Abukar, Roble or Iman — getting into the car at any point that night nor could they say who owned the vehicle.

Roble's mother testifies

The most emotional testimony came Monday afternoon as Roble's mother took the stand and recalled her son as a happy child who helped everyone.

“He was my youngest son. He was a happy child,” Murayah Hasan said, adding that her son lit up the room and that he put everyone before himself.

Hasan testified that the family moved to the U.S. from Kenya in 1994 when Roble was around 4 or 5 years old. The family moved to Rochester in 1996 and Roble went through the Rochester Public Schools system until halfway through high school when he returned with his mother to Kenya while she cared for her own ailing mother.

Roble returned to Rochester in 2010 after graduating high school in Kenya and lived at home until his death.

“He is really, really helpful and kind of heart and smiles at everybody,” Hasan said.

As she returned to her seat in the courtroom galley, Hasan held her face, visibly overcome with emotion. It was also through her testimony that jurors were able to see a picture of Roble as he was before his death. A picture from 2018 showed a smiling face — a far cry from the bloodied and wounded images jurors saw in the crime scene photos.

Prosecution rests, defense calls witnesses

Following Hasan's testimony, Assistant Olmsted County Attorney Andrew LeTourneau and Olmsted County District Attorney Mark Ostrem rested their case. Defense attorneys Paul Applebaum and Kenneth Udoibok called two witnesses — Sgt. Malinda Hanson and detective Dan Johnson, both of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office.

Hanson testified that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension did not find any blood evidence on shoes taken from Abukar's residence nor did the shoeprint match shoeprints from the scene.

Johnson was briefly called to the stand to testify on the topic of warrants relating to the case but was dismissed before providing any substantive testimony.

Motion for a judgement of acquittal

At the closing of the state's case, Applebaum made a verbal motion for a judgement of acquittal, arguing that no reasonable jury could find Abukar committed the crime or aided and abetted after the fact. Applebaum said the prosecution showed “a lot of cell tower information” showing where Abukar's phone was that night but did not have “information to pull back the curtain.”

Judge Lisa Hayne denied the motion and cited previous witness testimony that put Abukar, Roble and Iman together at about the time the cellphone data showed the phones left the Crystal Bay Court residence, as well conflicting statements Abukar gave to investigators.

Jury selection began Nov. 29 when 15 people — four men and 11 women — were seated as jurors to hear the case. Only 12 will deliberate. All but one juror appears to be white.

During the course of the trial, jurors have heard from nearly two dozen witnesses including the former assistant chief medical examiner at the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office at Mayo Clinic, forensic scientists and special agents with the BCA as well as members of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office.

The jury will likely begin deliberations Tuesday morning following closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.

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