First Degree Murder or Voluntary Manslaughter?

The jury heard the closing arguments in the murder trial of Tracey Biletnikoff.

A man charged with strangling the daughter of a Hall of Fame football player more than 13 years ago committed the crime for "self-centered, selfish, and evil purposes" and should be found guilty of first-degree murder, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said today.

Wagstaffe made his closing arguments at the superior court trial of Mohammed Haroon Ali, 36, who has been charged with murdering his 20-year-old girlfriend Tracey Biletnikoff at a San Mateo drug rehab center on Feb. 15, 1999.

Biletnikoff -- a recovering drug addict who was the daughter of former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff -- had met Ali through drug treatment and the two eventually started dating.

Wagstaffe showed a photograph of the blonde, smiling, well-dressed Biletnikoff before she was murdered, as well as photographs of her bruised body and neck that were taken of her after she was found open-legged and dead at the bottom of a ravine near on Feb. 16.

Ali rarely lifted his head and sat motionless during the proceedings. During the trial, that he did strangle, and ultimately, kill Biletnikoff.

Wagstaffe said Ali's two-day testimony in his own defense was a "mixture of truth and lies," just like the variable statements the defendant has made through the years to police, prosecutors and doctors since the murder.

"He has spent his life -- including this trial -- believing he can talk his way out of things," Wagstaffe said.

Days before the murder, Ali had relapsed into alcohol and drug abuse after two years of sobriety, jeopardizing his standing as a counselor and a recovering addict at Project 90, a substance abuse program in San Mateo.

After he confessed his relapse to Biletnikoff, she insisted that Ali restart the rehab program, and he resisted, Wagstaffe said.

Wagstaffe said the disagreement led to an increasingly heated argument in a Project 90 office, during which Ali tried to grab the keys to Biletnikoff's car to steal it and flee.

Biletnikoff refused, and blocked the office doorway to try to prevent Ali from leaving.

Ali testified that he grabbed Biletnikoff's shoulders to get her out of the way and she refused, prompting him to move his hands to her neck.

Ali said he strangled her until white fluid was visible in her mouth, and she was on the floor, dead.

Wagstaffe said that Ali deliberately intended to kill Biletnikoff to get her car.

He further argued that the defendant showed intent to kill during the three to five minutes that it took to choke her to death.

Ali made the decision to continue to strangle the victim with the intent to kill her, even as she tried to fight him off in a "death struggle," Wagstaffe said.

Proving intent to kill is crucial to determining whether the defendant was guilty of first-degree murder.

Defense attorney Peter Goldscheider argued that the homicide was a "spontaneous impulse" during a heated argument between boyfriend and girlfriend, and that Ali should be found guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.

Goldscheider said that in order to be guilty of first-degree murder, "you have to carefully weigh the consequences and then make the decision to kill."

"Nothing like that happened in that room," he said.         

This is the second time that Ali has been on trial in San Mateo County Superior Court for Biletnikoff's murder.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2001 and sentenced to 64 years to life in prison.

In 2009, an appellate court overturned the conviction stating that prosecutors had improperly dismissed at least one black juror, thus requiring a retrial.

A conviction of voluntary manslaughter would carry a much lighter sentence.

Closing arguments are scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

--Bay City News

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