Mohamed A. Aly, a 19-year-old Alexandria man charged with a Feb. 8 double homicide of a young man and a young woman found dead along a highway in Halifax County, was sentenced Thursday in Halifax County Circuit Court to four consecutive life sentences plus 18 years after entering into a plea agreement with the Commonwealth.
By entering the guilty plea, he waived his right to a trial by jury. A grand jury in Halifax County previously had delivered a true bill of indictment on Aly’s charges on Dec. 3 related to the murder of Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, and his girlfriend 19-year-old Ayanna Munne Maertes Griffin of Germantown, Maryland.
The couple were found lying in the grass dead near a silver 2009 Nissan Maxima in the median on U.S. Highway 58 near Melon Road in the Turbeville area around 2:50 a.m. on Feb. 8.
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office took Aly into custody in Alexandria on Thursday, Feb. 13. At the time, Aly was a student at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. Aly is currently incarcerated in Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Halifax.
Judge Kimberley S. White sentenced Aly to four sentences of life in prison for the first-degree murder of Bianda, the first-degree murder of Griffin, and two charges of carjacking with a gun.
White also sentenced Aly to a total of 18 years in prison: three years for one of the charges of the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and five years each for the other three charges of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
The judge also ordered Aly to be on good behavior for life, have no contact with any of the victims’ families, and pay court costs and restitution as able.
White told those gathered in the courtroom Thursday that she has “many sad days” in her courtroom, but hearing about the lives of two young people – Bianda and Griffin – being cut short was “one of the most tragic things that this court has ever seen.”
Before sentencing Aly, she told him she had seen his college admissions letters and it appeared that prior to his actions in the early morning hours of Feb. 8, his future was an “exceedingly bright one.”
“It breaks my heart that it’s not like that now,” White told Aly.
Tracy Q. Martin, commonwealth’s attorney for Halifax County, gave a statement on behalf of the prosecution in court Thursday.
She said both victims – Bianda and Griffin – had gunshot wounds to the back of their head, gunshot wounds inflicted by a 9 mm gun that Aly had in his possession on the trio’s journey that night from Alexandria to Danville and that according to his own testimony, Aly had pulled the trigger firing the fatal shots that ended the lives of Bianda and Griffin.
In Aly’s words, “I pointed the gun at his head, without thinking, without saying anything, I pulled the trigger,” Martin related to those gathered in the courtroom. A second later, Aly shot Griffin, Martin said.
Prior to his sentencing, Aly expressed remorse for his actions and gave an apology to the family members of the victims gathered in the courtroom.
“I want to apologize to everyone for my actions. I can’t imagine the pain that I have caused,” Aly said. “My deepest condolences goes out to the families…I’m sorry, and I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
A tearful Serge Bianda, father of one of the victims Ntombo “Joel” Bianda, read an impact statement prior to Aly’s sentencing Thursday in which he asked Judge White to consider imposing the maximum sentence on Aly for his actions because taking the life of his firstborn son Joel was a “life sentence” for him and his family.
“There are no words that can express the tremendous pain, anguish and suffering I have endured,” Bianda said. “There hasn’t been a day I’ve spent without thinking about Joel…Our family is broken, and our future is forever changed.”
Bianda also expressed his grief over not being able to celebrate Joel’s upcoming birthday with him, not being able to spend the holidays with him, never hearing his laughter anymore, and never being able to see him graduate from college.
The father of the other victim, G. Ivan Maertens Aramayo, also gave an impact statement expressing his grief over the loss of his daughter, Ayanna.
Aramayo shared that his daughter was a “good person” and a hard worker who graduated from high school at the age of 16 with a promising future that was taken from her.
“Not a day goes by without thinking about her,” Aramayo said. “She will not marry, she will never bear children…”
Aly said in his apology to the victims’ families that he was young and did not know what he was thinking when he chose to take the actions that he took on Feb. 8.
Martin related in her statement of facts that Aly previously told police he was having “thoughts” as he rode in the back seat of Bianda’s car that night – doubts about college and his home life.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney filled in the blanks of the rest of the events of Feb. 8 for the court in her statement of facts.
She said Bianda had agreed to drive Aly from Alexandria to Danville to “pick up a friend” and Bianda’s girlfriend Griffin went along for the ride.
They switched drivers at a Wawa gas station and Aly drove about 100 miles down the road. They switched drivers again, seemingly in Halifax County about an hour from their destination in Danville.
A few minutes later, Aly told Bianda to pull over, got in the middle of the back seat, and Aly pulled the trigger of the gun, shooting Bianda in the head while the car was still moving, said Martin.
After shooting both Bianda and Griffin, Martin related that Aly pulled the victims’ bodies out of the cars, left their bodies in the grassy median, seized control of the car and drove it to Danville.
He then picked up a friend at or near his home in the Danville area, and he remembered that he left a gun at the scene of the crime, so he and his friend returned to the scene, said Martin.
Aly took the victims’ cell phones, found the gun, seized control of Bianda’s car once again and lost control of the car in his attempt to flee the scene, crashing into the embankment, Martin continued.
He and his friend then ran into the woods near Melon Road where they disposed of the gun and threw the two magazines and the firearm in different locations, she added.
Martin continued her statement, telling those gathered in the courtroom that Aly and his friend found a cab driver out of Lynchburg to pick them up at an empty home on Highway 58. The pair returned to Aly’s friend’s home, Aly disposed of the clothing he was wearing at the crime scene in a dumpster, and the pair got another hired driver to pick them up in Danville. Aly convinced a friend from Alexandria to pick them up in the vicinity of Virginia State, and take them back to Aly’s home in Alexandria. Back at home, Aly returned to school, posted on social media, and seemingly resumed his day-to-day life.
In the meantime, law enforcement had started their investigation of the murders of Bianda and Griffin.
Ultimately, Martin said the physical evidence corroborated Aly’s confession to the police and a number of statements he made to people close to him.
Aly also made a number of recorded jail calls and statements to jail inmates admitting his role as the triggerman in the murders of Bianda and Griffin, Martin said.