Sunday, May 19, 2013
PORTLAND – Abdi Awad broke down sobbing as he spoke of his squandered opportunities. He was hanging around with the wrong crowd, he acknowledged, and let his family down and hurt people.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
"I blew it, your honor," the Portland man told a judge Wednesday. "I wish I did what I was supposed to when I had a chance."
Awad was sentenced in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court to 25 years in prison, with seven years suspended, for elevated aggravated assault in the stabbing of a bouncer at a chem-free party at Morrill's Corner last year.
Dressed in the yellow jail clothes of a maximum-security inmate, Awad wiped at his eyes and doubled over at times as he addressed Superior Court Justice Roland Cole. Some of Awad's female supporters in the courtroom wept as he spoke.
Two contrasting pictures of Awad emerged during the hearing.
The prosecutor asked for a sentence of 30 years, arguing that Awad is a danger to society and citing numerous crimes, including attempts to intimidate witnesses through associates.
The defense, which recommended a sentence of 12 years with five suspended, stressed Awad's difficult upbringing and how the right environment brought out a family-oriented and caring nature.
Cole noted Awad's escalating criminal behavior and his refusal to take responsibility for it among the factors in his case. The judge said his youth was a mitigating factor.
The lawyers on both sides said during the hearing that Awad is 25, but his date of birth on record at the Cumberland County Jail indicates he is 27.
"I think he can change but, boy, he has to make some serious decisions about changing if he wants to stay out of trouble," Cole said.
Awad was convicted of stabbing a man who was providing security at a private party at 1192 Forest Ave. in March 2011. Alcohol and drugs were prohibited from the party, which drew a largely Somali crowd. A melee erupted after a bouncer saw alcohol passed among a group that included Awad.
Awad stabbed Donald Brown twice in the back after another security person, Mahad Abu, tried to prevent Awad from intervening.
In a letter to the court, Brown said he was told by the hospital's staff that he was lucky that his injuries, close to the spine, did not paralyze him, according to Deputy District Attorney Meg Elam.
Awad was indicted in the stabbing on Aug. 4. About three weeks later, federal agents arrested him in Sierra Blanca, Texas, about 80 miles from Juarez, Mexico.
While in jail, Awad tried to intimidate witnesses through his friends -- and the telephone conversations from jail were recorded and translated, Elam said.
She described that as part of Awad's pattern of harassment and intimidation of others, including strangers he encountered in places like the bus or the Maine Mall.
J.P. DeGrinney, Awad's lawyer, provided a different interpretation of the recorded conversations from jail. He said references to having someone "take care" of a potential witness were not threats but attempts to have his side of the story told.
DeGrinney described Awad as coming from a difficult background. In accordance with Somali culture, DeGrinney said, Awad inherited the status of his father, who was in a group that was considered the lowest in that society's hierarchy.
Outside of Somali circles, he was confronted by people who hurl racial slurs at him, DeGrinney said, and he ended up getting involved with people who were a bad influence.
Suad Hassan, Awad's cousin, described Awad to the court as someone who is intelligent, respects his elders and helps relatives with their Koran studies. She said she knows he could have a bright future with the right guidance.
"I know him to be generous, kind-hearted and giving," said Hassan, who was among supporters who got emotional when Awad later addressed the court.
Elam said, "I think what he's sad about is, the jig is up."
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: