Jury hears testimony from dead Fridley man

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 15, 2011 - 10:45 PM

The 84-year-old sex assault victim's death has not been linked to the attack of which Ahmed Sule is accused.

The 84-year-old man on the witness stand was having trouble breathing, hunched over from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He also was suffering from four broken ribs and a fractured spine, injuries that he said occurred when a man broke into his home and sexually assaulted him.

The jury listened intently to his testimony Thursday in Anoka County court, which ended with his last statement: "I'm surprised I remember anything from that night."

In a rare move, video of a man's testimony was being presented at the trial of Ahmed Sule, accused of attacking him last September in his Fridley home. The judge told jurors the man was unavailable to testify in person, but the reason was purposely withheld: He died four months before the trial started, although authorities did not link the alleged assault to his death.

The defense had argued that telling jurors about the man's death would make them more sympathetic toward him. His testimony was available only because the prosecution had taken the unusual step months ago of getting judicial approval to videotape it because his health was failing.

The jurors have not been sequestered, but they have been advised not to discuss or follow the case in the media.

There have been several strange twists in the case. Sule, 24, initially was charged last year, but in April, a judge rejected critical DNA evidence in the case and Sule was released from jail. Hours after his release, however, investigators were able to obtain new DNA evidence, arrest Sule and re-charge him.

The elderly man was legally blind, and the importance of DNA in the case was stressed in the opening statement of prosecutor Wade Kish. On a screen, he flashed the figure "99.9999995%," the statistical percentage of the world's population that he said could be ruled out as a match for the DNA evidence from Sule.

Kish described in sometimes graphic detail what happened to the Fridley man. He heard a noise on his deck and when he opened the door slightly, Sule forced his way inside, Kish said. Sule told him that he wanted to kiss him and that he loved him, touching him sexually, the prosecutor continued. A struggle ensued through several rooms, with the elderly man saying at one point that he tried to make it to the kitchen and grab a knife.

Weak from cancer treatments, the man said in the video testimony that he was no match for his assailant. He was eventually pulled to a bedroom, where Sule assaulted him, Kish said.

Defense attorney Jill Brisbois argued that DNA evidence alone won't prove Sule's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. She insisted that Sule never attacked the man.

"I saw the looks on your faces when the prosecution was describing what happened. We get it," she told the jury. "But you can't tie this case up in a nice bow. It's not like a CSI episode."

Charges filed anew

Because the man was legally blind and couldn't identify his attacker, DNA was the only link to Sule. When he was released from jail after the original charges were dropped, a half-dozen detectives waited to shadow his every move.

The detectives watched as a friend picked him up and drove to a convenience store. Near the entrance, Sule tossed a cigarette butt, which a detective scooped up with rubber gloves. Shortly after, police stopped traffic on Hwy. 10 at the end of the evening rush hour to hunt for another cigarette butt. The same evening, police picked up Sule in connection with an unrelated burglary incident, putting him back behind bars.

DNA tests later came back positive, authorities said, allowing charges to be refiled in the current case. Sule faces five counts of felony criminal sexual conduct and attempted sexual conduct, as well as one count of burglary.

The Fridley man died on May 1, but the medical examiner couldn't connect the assault to his death, prosecutors said. Because Sule's attorney was allowed to cross-examine the man during his videotaped testimony in March, it was admitted Thursday.

Sule didn't show any emotion during the trial's first day. He wore headphones to hear testimony translated by an interpreter.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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