The trial is underway in the murder case against Hassan M. Gailani, who is charged with the shooting deaths of two men inside a Sterling coffee shop in 2018.
Gailani, 36, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and a host of related charges in the May 14, 2018 shooting of Ahmed S. Osman, 35, of Sterling and Murtada A. Marof, 40, of Herndon, at Pharaoh Café.
The jury trial is scheduled for nine days under the direction of Circuit Court Judge Stephen E. Sincavage.
Jurors will be asked to decide whether the shooting was planned in advance with at least one of the victims targeted in the attack, as prosecutors will argue; or whether Gailani was suffering a mental condition that left him unable to understand the consequences of his actions or to resist the impulse to harm the victims—an insanity defense his attorneys have pursued.
In opening arguments Wednesday morning, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Vernail told the jury that the case was about “vigilante revenge,” with Gailani taking the law into his own hands to punish people he believed had assaulted him.
“He went in to enact his own brand of self-help revenge,” she said of the shooting.
Public Defender Genevieve J. Miller said she would not be challenging many of the facts in the case, including that Gailani fired the shots that took two lives, but instead would ask the jury to decide “why” the shooting happened.
“He is a man suffering from a delusional mind,” she said, and was unable to distinguish from right and wrong at the time of the shooting.
Witness testimony, which began this morning with the eyewitness account of the café owner and the observations of deputies first called to the scene, is expected to continue into next week.
According to information provided by the Sheriff’s Office and through testimony in pre-trial hearings, Gailani was apprehended in or near his vehicle in the parking lot of the Sterling shopping center, where the hookah lounge’s manager pointed him out to deputies who had responded to the scene.
Inside the establishment—where Gailani, an American-born son of Sudanese citizens would often go to play cards with others from the area’s Sudanese community—Osman and Marof were on the floor. Osman was already dead. Marof was writhing in pain and died shortly after the EMS crew got him to the ambulance.
Under questioning while sitting in custody in the deputy’s cruiser, Gailani appears in video footage to admit being the shooter. In a later interview, he would tell deputies he did not intend to shoot Marof and showed remorse after learning he had died.
Investigators later found a Kel-Tec 9mm pistol, along with a green gym bag containing a plastic gun box and an empty box of ammunition, in a Kia Soul that Gailani had rented. Following the shooting, Gailani drove the Kia from the café parking lot to his Toyota Camry, which he had parked about a half mile away from the scene. Gailani then drove the Camry back to the café parking lot, where he was found with the key to the Kia.
Since then, Gailani has stated he remembers nothing about the shooting.
In a court-ordered mental evaluation, a forensic psychologist found that Gailani suffered from a delusional disorder, rooted in suspicions that he had been drugged and sexually assaulted by an acquaintance while living in Sudan in 2008 and that he had acquired HIV as a result. He said he maintained that belief even after multiple tests showed negative results.
He moved to the U.S. in 2011.
In the interviews with the psychologist, Gailani said he thought he again had been drugged and assaulted twice in early 2018 by another acquaintance and by Osman. After that, Gailani said he sought to fight back and plotted to attack his aggressors. He assembled a bag with a TASER and a handgun and he took a shooting class. On May 13, he rented a car that would not be recognizable to the café patrons and waited outside for the two men to come to the club, with the intent to beat them up. While he was waiting, he saw Osman enter, but not the second man. He said he remembered reading an email from his insurance company while sitting in the rental car and then remembered being arrested in his Camry—but he said he remembered nothing in between and nothing about the shootings, according to pre-trial interviews.
In addition to the charges of first-degree murder, which carry a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, Gailani is charged with seven counts of shooting within an occupied building and two counts of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.