A San Mateo County jury deliberated for a day and a half before finding a man guilty Thursday of murdering the daughter of former Oakland Raider Fred Biletnikoff.
The verdict was both a relief for the family of Tracey Biletnikoff, who was strangled by Mohammed Haroon Ali at a San Mateo drug rehab center in 1999, and a measure of redemption for District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, who has now gotten a conviction in the case twice.
Ali’s 1999 conviction for first-degree murder was thrown out in 2009 by an appeals court that ruled Wagstaffe had improperly dismissed a black juror.
Wagstaffe denies manipulating the jury pool. Thursday, a jury at Ali’s new trial returned the same verdict.
Members of Biletnikoff’s family embraced each other when it was read in court.
“They have been unbelievably supportive, and I can’t express the gratitude to them for going through it twice,” Wagstaffe said of Biletnikoff’s family afterward. “I would have understood if they told me no, but they didn’t, they’ve been here the whole way.”
Ali and Biletnikoff met in 1997 in a drug rehabilitation program and began dating. During a heated argument after Ali had relapsed on Feb. 15, 1999, Ali killed the 20-year-old Biletnikoff and fled to Mexico. He was arrested returning to the United States.
Ali’s attorney Peter Goldscheider argued that the killing occurred in the heat of passion and was voluntary manslaughter. It was “an immediate moment of emotion,” Goldscheider said Thursday. “That’s the tragedy of it.”
The elder Biletnikoff told reporters that it was difficult to relive Tracey’s murder.
“It’s hard for everybody, for our entire family,” Biletnikoff said. “And I’m sure it’s hard for the defendant, too.”
Going through Tracey’s death and the first trial was difficult enough, Biletnikoff’s son Fred Jr. said.
“To have to go through it again … years later, it’s not a good situation,” he said. “The outcome is what we hoped for, but … we’d rather have Tracey here with us.”
Tracey’s father — a wide receiver for the Raiders who was later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — set up a foundation in his daughter’s name to help youth dealing with substance abuse and domestic violence.
“She knew she had missed so much of her teenage life, by being involved in drugs,” Biletnikoff said. “And then, she knew she was getting it back, and she was happy, you could see an entirely different Tracey. I think everybody should remember that she had enough guts to go ahead and fight everything, and get her life back.”
Ali, now 36, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14.
Bay City News contributed to this report.
1997: Tracey Biletnikoff meets Mohammed Haroon Ali at a San Mateo drug rehab program, and the couple later begin dating.
1999: Biletnikoff’s body is found near Cañada College in Redwood City. Ali is arrested while returning from Mexico.
2001: Ali sentenced to 55 years in prison for Biletnikoff’s murder, plus an additional nine years for the prior kidnapping of an ex-girlfriend
2009: Appeals court overturns Ali’s murder conviction
March 15, 2012: Ali convicted of Biletnikoff’s murder a second time