HAMTRAMCK — More than two years after a Hamtramck judge dismissed criminal sexual conduct charges, without prejudice, against community leader and activist Ibrahim Aljahim, the case is now bound for a jury trial after prosecutors introduced new evidence.
A lengthy preliminary examination occurred early Thursday at the 31st District Court in Hamtramck.
The case made local headlines in 2019 when it was alleged that Aljahim committed criminal sexual acts against a student at Oakland International Academy with diagnosed cognitive and developmental disabilities. Aljahim worked as family liaison at the school.
The case was dismissed without prejudice by 31st District Court Judge Alexis Krot back then, in light of no physical evidence like DNA being presented and only the inconsistent testimony of the visibly shaken student during lengthy preliminary exams to determine if the case should be bound over to Wayne County Court for trial.
Krot had told Wayne County prosecutors that they were free to refile the case should they present credible evidence which indicated without a reasonable doubt that Aljahim committed the criminal sexual acts he was charged with.
An appeal by prosecutors against Krot’s ruling was dismissed by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge in 2020.
The case appeared again in front of Krot, with prosecutors alleging that DNA samples from a rape kit taken from the victim at the time of the alleged act identified Aljahim as the offender.
Attorney Roger Farinha once again represented Aljahim during Thursday’s lengthy preliminary exam, which hinged on whether prosecution’s DNA evidence was enough to move the case up to trial.
Farinha attempted to discredit the evidence in several ways, including implying that the officer on duty during the 2019 alleged incident had a history of bias against Hamtramck’s Yemeni and Bengali population, which may have compromised the chain of custody of the DNA sample taken from the alleged victim.
Dr. Chiodo disagreed with state forensic scientist Jones’ interpretation of DNA testing results and said the sample did not conclusively point to Aljahim. Jones said in her report and in court that the results presented more than sufficient likelihood that Aljahim’s DNA was found on the victim.
He also brought up an incident involving three older students who had pulled down the victim’s trousers and taken a cell phone video, for which the police was originally called to the school that day. During the preliminary exam in 2019, Farinha had argued that those same students had coerced the alleged victim into falsely accusing Aljahim of the sexual assault.
Aljahim had escorted the student to his car after that incident and that is where he is accused of performing the criminal sexual act.
But the defense’s argument rested primarily on the validity of the DNA results from the state’s lab. Two expert witnesses were brought in: Michigan State Police Laboratory forensic scientist Jennifer Jones, who has generated thousands of DNA evidence reports in her career; and Dr. Ernest Chiodo, a highly trained physician, biomedical engineer and attorney.
Through detailed testimonies from both witnesses and sometimes-heated cross examinations, defense showed that Chiodo disagreed with Jones’ interpretation of DNA testing results and said the sample did not conclusively point to Aljahim. Jones said in her report and in court that the results presented more than sufficient likelihood that Aljahim’s DNA was found on the victim.
The complicated and specialized science behind DNA sampling, analysis and use in criminal cases will surely be examined further in the trial to which Aljahim is now headed.
The things that impede (the victim’s) credibility are taken out by support for his testimony by DNA evidence. – 31st District Court Judge Alexis Krot
In giving her decision to bind over the case for trial, Krot said the compelling DNA evidence coupled with the victim’s earlier testimony was sufficient to take the matter to trial. She said though both witnesses were credible, Chiodo disagreed with the DNA results by using different standard of interpretation than Jones.
“The things that impede (the victim’s) credibility are taken out by support for his testimony by DNA evidence,” Krot said.
The charges against Aljahim are two counts of “criminal sexual conduct first degree mentally handicapped” according to court records. In 2019, Aljahim faced two additional third-degree charges.
On Thursday, Krot indicated that Aljahim had fled after an arrest warrant was issued and was picked up in Mississippi, though the circumstances behind the arrest remain unclear. Hamtramck Police Chief Anne Moise did not reply to an email by The Arab American News this week.
At an arraignment last month, Aljahim pled “not guilty” to both counts.
Aljahim was placed on a $500,000 cash bond and will remain under house arrest, with a tether. Arraignment on the information is set for Aug. 25 at the Wayne County Third Circuit Court.