Second man’s murder conviction upheld in tax preparer killing

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Convictions and a decades-long sentence for a man who helped his father murder and rob an Indianapolis tax preparer were affirmed Thursday by the Indiana Court of Appeals. 

In April 2016, Mohamed Mahmoud’s body was found inside a dumpster bound and suffocated by a pillowcase containing feces. Mahmoud, who worked as a tax preparer at Taxesmart in Indianapolis, attended the same mosque as Ziad Abd, and had helped Ziad and his son, Akram Abd, file their tax returns.

Police later identified Ziad and Akram as Mahmoud’s killers after evidence placed them in the area of Taxesmart and the Airport Office Center where Mahmoud’s body was found at the time of the crimes. Akram was charged with murder and Level 5 felony robbery and received a 71-year prison sentence. An identical conviction and sentence was ordered for Ziad, who conceded that the offenses were “serious and disturbing.” The COA upheld Ziad’s conviction and sentence last month.

Akram argued on appeal that evidence was insufficient to support the convictions, that the trial court improperly admitted character evidence when its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value, and that it erroneously provided an incomplete jury instruction. But appellate court affirmed Abd’s convictions in Akram Abd v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-780.

The COA first found sufficient evidence to support Abd’s convictions, noting that he was sitting in his Ford Taurus facing Taxesmart the night that Mahmoud was robbed and murdered, and that cars with similar appearance to Ziad and Abd’s appeared at the office park where Mahmoud’s corpse was later discarded. A fingerprint matching Abd’s was also found on the safe in Mahmoud’s office where the men stole money, and the pillowcase and duct tape used in Mahmoud’s killing were traced back to their purchases and home.

Additionally, the appellate court found financial motive existed for Abd and Ziad to commit the crime. Both received small incomes and were unable to make timely car and rent payments, but were able to purchase a house in Detroit, pay off existing bills, send money to family in Iraq, and finish paying off their vehicles immediately after Mahmoud’s death.

Regarding Abd’s objections to the admittance of character evidence and evidence of his prior bad acts, the appellate court simply noted that it offered motive as to why Abd would be willing to commit the crimes in the first place.

“Due to his dire financial straits and poor living habits, Abd had the motive and intent to rob someone close to him whom he knew was financially successful. Evidence of Abd’s poor living conditions reflected his inability to maintain a clean home and his desire to rob someone else for wealth,” Judge John Baker wrote for the panel.

“Moreover, even if the trial court erroneously admitted this evidence, it was, at most, harmless error,” Baker continued. “We cannot hold that this isolated evidence of Abd’s living habits and negative attitude significantly impacted the jury’s decision making, in light of the significant, independent evidence that could lead a reasonable trier of fact to convict Abd of both murder and felony robbery.”

Lastly, the appellate court affirmed that no fundamental error was committed regarding Abd’s claim of jury instruction when it concluded the trial court was never asked to determine that the evidence used to convict Abd was exclusively circumstantial. Thus, the trial court was under no obligation to give the reasonable theory of innocence jury instruction.

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