Nearly 23 years after Rashad Khalifa was stabbed and beaten to death, the man accused of doing it has been convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder.
A Pima County jury returned the guilty verdict against Glen Francis, 52, after three hours of deliberations.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning will sentence Francis Jan. 28. He faces up to life in prison with release possible after 25 years.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Casey McGinley told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that "every piece of evidence, every witness and every analysis" pointed to Francis as the killer.
Khalifa's body was found in the kitchen of an East Sixth Street mosque on Jan. 31, 1990. The imam had been stabbed 29 times, beaten and doused with a flammable solvent by a killer who turned on a gas stove's burners in an apparent attempt to destroy the crime scene.
Attorneys for both sides agreed Khalifa, 54, was likely killed because of his religious teachings. After studying the Quran for years, he found a mathematical code and came to believe two verses were satanic. In his English translation of the Quran, he removed those verses. He also taught that people should follow the word of God and not that of human beings.
"His attacker was filled with anger and he was filled with rage and he was filled with the want and desire to kill," McGinley said.
McGinley told jurors the evidence showed Francis moved to Tucson under an assumed name with the express desire to kill Khalifa. He rented an apartment, got a job and a driver's license so he could easily join Khalifa's congregation and get to know the layout of the mosque and Khalifa's schedule.
Mahmoud Abib, a friend of Khalifa's, was the first person to realize Francis might have had something to do with Khalifa's death, McGinley reminded jurors.
Abib recalled how Francis wanted to know more about the Quran but would argue about what it says, McGinley said. Francis also knew how to pray distinct prayers and seemed more interested in the layout of the mosque than the lectures.
By the time Abib spoke to police about Francis he was gone, but he left pieces of himself behind - blood and fingerprints, McGinley said. Physical evidence that would lead to his being named a suspect in 1994 and to his eventual arrest in Canada in 2009.
There is no logical explanation for Francis' DNA to be left at the scene other than that he was the man who killed Khalifa, McGinley said.
Assistant Pima County Public Defender Sean Bruner told jurors McGinley was asking them to rely on speculation and shoddy police work in order to convict Francis.
"Where is the evidence that Glen Francis had a beef with him?" Bruner asked. "The evidence was that he was polite and inquisitive."
Abib gave police a whole list of potential suspects right after the murder, but Francis wasn't on that list, Bruner said. Abib grew suspicious of Francis' actions only after being shown his picture.
"It's not that hard to imitate people in prayer around you," Bruner said.
As for shoddy police work, Bruner reminded jurors that police said they found a gas bill in Francis' home on Feb. 19, 1990, but the postmark showed it was mailed Feb. 21, 1990. He also pointed out all of the DNA was compared to a "Ben Wall" when Francis used the aliases "Ben Phillips" and "J.Q. Wall."
In addition, two pieces of bloody evidence were marked with the same identification number - 7TM, Bruner said.
"I'm not convinced (by the evidence), and you shouldn't be, either," Bruner said. "Look at this stuff. This is a first-degree murder case."
Bruner also reminded jurors hairs found in Khalifa's hand were not Francis' and no one knows who left one of two bloody footprints at the scene. (The other one was left by Khalifa.)
If Francis were going to carefully plan a murder, he wouldn't have left a paper trail behind, including his brand-new driver's license, Bruner said.
Bruner conceded using an alias is suspicious, but "suspicion doesn't get it" - suspicion doesn't overcome the legal requirement of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org