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Medical examiner testifies during third day of trial for Rochester man charged with murder

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

Muhidin Omar Abukar.png
Muhidin Omar Abukar

The third day of trial for a Rochester man charged with aiding and abetting murder resumed Thursday morning with testimony from a doctor who performed the 28-year-old man’s autopsy as well as a woman who may have been one of the last people to speak with the man before his death.

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

Roble was found by a passing motorist in the pre-dawn hours of March 5, 2019, on 45th Street Southeast, between St. Bridget Road Southeast (County Road 20) and Simpson Road (County Road 1). Roble was shot 11 times, including four times in the head.

The trial began Tuesday morning with opening statements from Assistant Olmsted County Attorney Andrew LeTourneau and Abukar's attorney Kenneth Udoibok.

COVERAGE FROM THE TRIAL:

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  • Witnesses take stand in Rochester murder trial On Tuesday, more than a half-dozen witnesses took the stand, including the person who found Garad Roble’s body, the first law enforcement officer on scene, and agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who assisted the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office in its investigation.
  • Opening statements begin for Rochester man charged in March 2019 murder Muhidin Omar Abukar, 32, is charged in Olmsted County District Court with second-degree murder in the 2019 death of 28-year-old Garad Hassan Roble.

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, LeTourneau and Olmsted County District Attorney Mark Ostrem called more than a dozen witnesses, including members of the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, agents with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, employees of the now-closed The Loop restaurant and others.
Udoibok and attorney Paul Applebaum took turns questioning the state's witnesses.

Prosecutors are expected to present a large amount of cellphone data showing where Abukar's, Roble's and Iman's phones were in the late-night hours of March 4 and the early hours of March 5, 2019.

'His attitude was a little better'

LaTonya McNeal testified Thursday that she knew Roble for a number of years and that she "sometimes bought drugs from him." McNeal saw Roble in the hours before he left for The Loop Bar and also spoke to him on phone twice -- once around 10:30 p.m. March 4 and once around 2 a.m. March 5.

In those conversations, McNeal said Roble seemed intoxicated but fine. McNeal also said she noticed a change in Roble's behavior from past encounters.

"He was kind of an asshole back in the day," she said, adding that on March 4 she noticed he had changed. "His attitude was a little better. He seemed more chilled, in a better state. He didn't seem as feisty as before."

Through questioning by Applebaum, McNeal said she didn't know if anyone had a grudge or vendetta against him or if she had seen him with a gun.

Medical examiner, law enforcement testify

Dr. Peter Lin, who at the time was the assistant Chief Medical Examiner at the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office at Mayo Clinic, testified that Roble's death was a homicide and that the most serious wound was to Roble's back, which entered his body, went through his right lung, through his heart and came out the left side of his chest.

Lin also testified that a gunshot wound to Roble's right cheek, which entered just in front of his ear, traveled behind his skull and exited out the left side of his neck, was fired at a maximum of 6 inches away as there was soot staining found around the wound.

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Roble also suffered a serious graze wound to his forehead. Although the bullet did not enter his brain, Lin said it did fracture his skull and that a piece of the skull may have entered Roble's brain.

Last to testify Thursday morning was Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office investigator Joel Johnson. Johnson interviewed Abukar on March 8, 2019, and also collected his phone as well as two phones from Ayub Abucar Hagi Iman. Iman also is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Roble's death.

During his interview of Abukar at the law enforcement center, Johnson testified that he confronted Abukar multiple times about untruthful statements he made in the course of the interview. Johnson said that Abukar initially told investigators he was at the home of his aunt and uncle on the night of March 4, 2019, and that he had not left. Surveillance footage taken from a downtown parking garage, as well as from The Loop and Meadow Park Apartments, showed that was not the case.

When confronted about the existence of the surveillance footage from the bar, Abukar admitted he was there, Johnson said.

Johnson also testified that Abukar initially denied being with Roble that night, but then said he and his group of friends ran into Roble in an alley downtown and that Roble joined the group from there.

On cross examination by Applebaum, Johnson acknowledged it was possible that Abukar was so drunk the night of March 4 that when investigators spoke to him three days later he wasn’t being dishonest, but rather, could not recall. Johnson would later state that he felt Abukar was being evasive and not just forgetful.

Data shows Abukar's phone was powered off

Olmsted County Sheriff's detective Dan Johnson was the last to take the stand Thursday afternoon. Johnson, who assists with "high technology crimes" investigations, was responsible for extracting data from Abukar's phone. The extraction process allows law enforcement to learn of activity on the phone like search history, call logs and text messages as well as location data stored on the phone.

Johnson told the jurors that smartphones and applications used on them collect a location as well as other information in order to function and that information is then stored, at least temporarily in a database on the phone.

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Through Johnson's testimony, jurors were able to see a text conversation between Abukar's and his girlfriend. One message, sent from the woman identified in the phone as "Leeyah" around 12:13 a.m. on March 5, 2019, read "babe come home I'm waiting for you." A second message sent from the same number around 2:23 a.m. that same day read "are you coming back or no." Less then 10 minutes later, a response is sent "yeah babe am coming back."

The data extracted from Abukar's phone also showed that on March 5, the phone was powered down around 2:08 a.m. and was powered back on at 2:24 a.m.

Johnson said the messages were contradictory to what Abukar previously told law enforcement as Abukar said he had been home during the time frame of the messages.

During cross examination, Applebaum repeatedly asked if Johnson definitively knew who was on the other end of either phone.

"All you can know when you are looking at data records is that his phone called that phone, you are not able to tell from raw data who was on the phone," Applebaum said.

"That is correct," Johnson answered.

The trial is scheduled to resume Friday afternoon. Only one witness is expected to be called.

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