MURDER USA: Mohamed Aly shot to death Ayanna Maertens Griffin and Joel Bianda; now he has been sentenced to four life terms in prison
HALIFAX, VIRGINIA – With a guilty plea to homicide in Halifax County, Virginia, justice will be delivered for the victims of a ruthless killer.
On December 17, 2020 in the Halifax Circuit Court, Mohamed Aly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four consecutive life terms for the first-degree murders of Joel Bianda and Ayanna Maertens Griffin and carjacking.
He was sentenced to an additional 18 years for related firearms offenses.
SUMMARY OF FACTS
Tracy Quakenbush Martin, Halifax Commonwealth’s Attorney recited the facts of the case:
On February 8, 2020, Mohamed Aly willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation killed and murdered Joel Bianda.
On February 8, 2020, Mohamed Aly willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation killed and murdered Ayanna Maertens Griffin.
Joel was 21. Ayanna was 18. Joel had agreed to drive Aly from Alexandria, VA to Danville, VA. Ayanna, Joel’s girlfriend, went along for the ride.
Aly told Joel he needed a ride to Alexandria to pick up a friend. Aly took a firearm with him, a 9 mm, which he had picked up in Alexandria from, in his words, a “marked location.”
As he rode in the back seat from Alexandria, he told police, he was holding the 9 mm. He was having what he described as “thoughts.”
When asked what kind of thoughts, he said the thoughts were bad thoughts and good thoughts.
He was having doubts about college and about his home life.
At one point, the group stopped at a Wawa, and Joel asked Aly to drive, which he did for about 100 miles. They switched back again, it seems, in Halifax County, about an hour short of their destination in Danville.
Just a few minutes later, in the early morning hours of February 8, 2020, Aly told Joel to pull over. Aly told police he knew the gun was loaded and the safety was off.
He got in the middle of the back seat. While Joel was pulling over, while the car was still moving, in Aly’s words, “I pointed the gun at his head, without thinking, without saying anything, I pulled the trigger.”
A second later, he shot Ayanna.
As they were both slumped over, the car was still moving.
Aly had to reach forward into the front seat to try to stop it. He opened the back-left passenger door and tried to stop it with his foot.
Ultimately, he was able to put the car in park in the median on Highway 58 near Melon Road. He unfastened their seatbelts and pulled Joel and Ayanna out of the car; and leaving their bodies in the grassy median, he seized control of the vehicle and drove to Danville.
He picked up a friend, M. B., then a juvenile, at or near his home in Danville. Aly told police he remembered he had left the firearm at the scene, so he and M. B. returned.
Aly took Joel’s and Ayanna’s cell phones (and ultimately disposed of them in two different locations), inspected and left Joel’s wallet, found the gun, and again seized control of Joel’s vehicle.
As he attempted to escape the scene of the shooting, he lost control of the car–likely in the fervor of realizing cars passing by could see them–and crashed into the embankment. He abandoned the car, and the two ran into the woods near Melon Road. They disposed of the gun in the cutover, throwing the two magazines and the firearm into different locations.
They were able to find a cab driver out of Lynchburg to pick them up at an empty residence on Highway 58.
They went to Danville, back to the home of M. B. where, we surmise, they cleaned up.
Aly disposed of his clothes in a dumpster, according to his statement to police, and he hired another driver to pick them up from Danville and take them to Virginia State University.
Aly convinced a friend from Alexandria to pick up them up from there, telling her he had been in a car accident.
They rode with her from the general vicinity of Virginia State, back to Aly’s home in Alexandria. There, he returned to school, posted on social media, and generally appeared to resume normal life.
Meanwhile, law enforcement had begun to investigate the deaths of the two individuals they found in the median of 58, near a crashed car and two sets of car tracks.
Ultimately, the physical evidence corroborated the defendant’s confession to the police, and a number of additional statements he made to others close to him.
Joel and Ayanna were found each with single gun shots to the head, as verified by the Medical Examiner. Blood in Joel’s car and damage to the windshield corroborated the positions of Joel, Ayanna and Aly in the car before the murders.
Aly ultimately led police to the firearm and two magazines in the woods near the scene of the shooting.
Police were able to find the cell phones of Joel and Ayanna which tracked their movements throughout the night.
Online cash transactions and the statements of three drivers who provided transportation to Aly after the murders corroborated his return trip to Alexandria.
Aly, despite other statements to police minimizing or outright denying his role, and blaming others for the murders, also made a number of recorded jail calls and statements to inmates at the jail admitting to his role as the triggerman in the murders of Joel and Ayanna.
Family members of the murder victims traveled from Alexandria to attend the proceedings.
Several family members were permitted by Judge Kimberley White to give statements to the Court about the impact on their lives regarding the loss of their loved ones.
Aly accepted four consecutive life terms plus 18 years pursuant to an agreement with the Commonwealth.
“The Commonwealth has consulted closely with law enforcement and the families of the victims, which we do whenever possible,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin. “Most of the family members wanted to see Aly spend the rest of his life in prison, and the Commonwealth agreed that multiple life sentences were appropriate to achieve justice in the case.”
Also in attendance were representatives from the Virginia State Police, Appomattox Bureau of Criminal Investigations Field Office, who investigated the case.
“The Appomattox BCI agents were top-notch professionals. They pulled some of their brightest agents into the investigation, and they coordinated with a number of outside agencies for assistance. This case began as a mystery. A staggering number of work hours and the concerted efforts of agents from the Virginia State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, City of Danville Police Department and Halifax County Sheriff’s Office working together, led to the swift identification and arrest of the shooter in Alexandria.
“One of the most painful aspects of this case is that the family may never know Aly’s motive to murder their loved ones. We are all left asking, why? Although I am pleased that we had the chance to bring the family closure on this chapter in their lives, we may never have an answer to that question.”