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Evidence gone, Okla. drops charge in 1983 killing

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By Kelly P. Kissel
Associated Press
Prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge Wednesday against a man who evaded law enforcement officials for 27 years, telling a judge that witnesses were dead or unreliable and the physical evidence couldn't stand up to a court challenge.
Suhail Shanti, 49, was detained in Blaine along the Canadian border in June 2011 after applying to enter a "trusted traveler" program that benefits frequent border crossers. Fingerprints from his application matched those in a database of wanted men; officials said he was a suspect in the 1983 death of Mohamed Ayman Al-Zein, a fellow international student at Carl Albert State College in Oklahoma.
He was held for more than a year, but prosecutors said they eventually determined they couldn't prove his guilt. With the passage of time, the lead investigator had died and evidence degraded to the point that it was no longer useful, Prosecutor Jeffrey C. Smith wrote in his request for the charge to be dismissed.
"Over the course of approximately the last 29 years since the defendant failed to appear for his jury trial, some of the State's witnesses have died, some of their memories have failed and some cannot be located," Smith wrote.
Smith said much of the blood-stained material gathered from the scene no longer even tested positive for blood, much less genetic material that could have helped prove the case.
Shanti's lawyer had told the court during the summer that material evidence against Shanti was no longer valid. He did not immediately return a message left Wednesday seeking comment.
Shanti remained in the LeFlore County Jail. Administrator Claude Jones said federal officials requested that he be detained for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as he is not a U.S. citizen. Jones said Shanti could not take a telephone call at the jail.
Authorities were surprised last year when Shanti, then living at Burnaby, British Columbia, showed up at the Pacific Highway Port of Entry in Blaine and submitted his fingerprints as part of the interview process for the border crossing program. After checking the prints against a nationwide database, agents confirmed the charges against Shanti and arrested him.
In an interview, Smith said that while the case collapsed, it was a consolation that Shanti was subject to deportation. Last year, prosecutors said they believed Shanti was originally from Morocco.
"I don't know where he'll end up, but I'm pretty sure it won't be in the United States," Smith said. "We're pleased that he's not just being released out into the community."
Story tags » HomicideBlaine

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