Ali Abdi, a leader in the Somal Bantu community in Burlington, was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years to life in prison for sexual assault on a nine year old girl, despite pleas to the judge from two of his children. Abdi had taken off during his trial, and was captured out of state. The jury was not told he ran away. He was convicted.
Abdi’s lawyer argued that the case has to be viewed as different from others, because Abdi comes from a different cultural background. Erik Smart told the judge that Abdi fled Somalia and spent thirteen years in a refugee camp before arriving in Burlington. Smart says the Somali Bantu community has forgiven Abdi.
“I would venture to say this community views this crime differently than our own community would,” Smart told the court.
Prosecutor Susan Hardin argued that cultural differences do not excuse a crime.
“It is critical that the Somali Bantu community and all the others in Chittenden County be sent a very clear message: if you sexually assault our children, there will be severe consequences,” Hardin said.