Jury decides slayings of armored-car guards are 1st-degree murder

Mustafa Ali, who was captured on video gunning down two armored-car guards and confessed to police the next day, barely flinched yesterday as a jury foreman announced that the previously convicted bank robber was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart gave the jury of seven women and five men the day off today, but told them to report tomorrow to begin hearing the penalty phase of the trial. They will decide whether to sentence Ali, 39, to death or to life in prison without parole.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Barry will present aggravating circumstances to support the death penalty for Ali, who murdered Loomis guards William Widmaier, 65, and Joseph Alullo, 54, on Oct. 4, 2007.

Ali's defense team will present mitigating factors to try to sway the jury to spare his life.

A gag order imposed by Minehart barred the attorneys from discussing the verdict, including District Attorney Seth Williams, who was in court.

After leaving the courtroom, Judy Cassidy, widow of slain Police Officer Chuck Cassidy, said she attended to offer the type of support that had been given to her during the November trial that resulted in a death sentence for her husband's killer.

"That's what helped us a lot - the support of the department, the city and just the people," Cassidy said. "I feel strong about being here for the other families."

Ali's victims, both retired Philadelphia police officers from Bucks County, were ambushed just after 8 a.m. as they serviced an ATM in the drive-through of the Wachovia Bank at Roosevelt Mall in the Northeast.

Widmaier had been married 45 years, had two children and grandchildren.

Alullo had been married 30 years and had three children.

Ali, formerly of Woodhaven Road in the Northeast, followed the truck from its first stop to the bank and rushed the guards.

He was wearing gloves and brandishing an illegal 9mm Ruger, which he used to shoot both men through the heart, according to testimony during the two-week trial.

Ali then grabbed a bank bag that had no money inside, threw the bag on the ground and fled in his Acura.

He was arrested the next day in the parking lot of his apartment complex.

During his closing statement on Tuesday, Barry told the jury that Ali had planned to kill the guards and deserved a conviction of first-degree murder, which allows the possibility of a death sentence.

The jury's verdict, however, may have complicated Barry's quest to win that death sentence.

The panel found Ali not guilty of attempted murder of Loomis driver Joseph Walczak, who was cut when a bullet shattered the armored-car's window.

Barry would have been able to use the alleged attack on Walczak as an aggravating circumstance to support a death sentence.

Ali's three public defenders argued that the bullet that struck the window had been fired by Alullo during the shoot-out.

They tried to convince the jury that Ali never had murder on his mind but meant only to rob the guards.

When Alullo drew his gun, the defense argued, Ali panicked and began firing in reaction.

Ali was also found guilty of robbery, carrying a gun without a license and recklessly endangering another person.

He spent most of the 1990s in federal prison for a string of Philadelphia bank robberies, which the jury did not know about before it reached its verdict.