Finding his crime “serious and disturbing,” the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed the 71-year sentence and robbery conviction in the death of an Indianapolis tax preparer who kept cash in a safe beneath his desk at his west side Indianapolis office.
The body of tax preparer Mohamed Mahmoud, also know as Adel Helmi, was found early in the morning of April 21, 2016, at the Airport Office Park Center by a man who spotted it as he went to an office dumpster. Mahmoud’s wrists and ankles were bound with duct tape, and his head was covered with a pillowcase containing feces that was taped around his neck, according to the record, which said he died from asphyxiation.
Investigators soon focused on former clients Ziad Abd and his son Akram, who had been seen parked outside Mahmoud’s Taxesmart office late the night before Mahmoud’s body was discovered. Surveillance footage showed Mahmoud leaving at 1:37 a.m. on April 21, and someone much taller returning about 45 minutes later, unlocking the door and shortly thereafter walking out with something.
On May 21, 2016, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Detective Daniel Kepler electronically submitted applications for warrants to search the pair’s cellphone records, three vehicles, and their apartment. The searches turned up evidence of duct tape purchased on April 12; a set of sheets that matched the pillowcases, documentation that Abd had wired a total of $7,000 to a relative In Iraq. According to the record, “In the year preceding April 2016, Abd never had more than $32 in his bank account, and Akram’s bank account had been closed in February 2016 with a negative balance of $700.”
Investigators also obtained cell-site location information placing Abd and Akram in the area of Taxesmart and the office park where the body was found at the time of the crimes.
“Abd concedes that his offenses were ‘serious and disturbing,’” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in rejecting Abd’s appeal of his 71-year sentence for conviction of murder and Level 5 felony robbery in Ziad Abd v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-782.
“Abd and Akram targeted a man small in stature who had helped them with their taxes in the past and who apparently had little to no security on his business premises. The offenses were not spur of the moment lapses in judgment,” Riley wrote. “Abd and Akram planned and prepared by purchasing the duct tape, casing the Taxesmart business premises, and lying in wait for Mahmoud to finish work on the night of April 20, 2016. There is evidence in the record that Mahmoud was beaten before his death, presumably so that he would surrender the code to the safe. Mahmoud was bound and spent his last waking minutes ‘drowning in a bag of feces,’ as the forensic pathologist testified at trial.
The panel also turned away Abd’s arguments on appeal that Marion Superior Court abused its discretion in admitting evidence procured as a result of an electronically filed search warrant. The COA also held that the evidence was sufficient to support Abd’s convictions; the trial court did not commit fundamental error instructing the jury, and;the trial court did not commit fundamental error in denying Abd the right to allocute at his trial after his counsel declined.