A jury needed less than two hours on Thursday to convict an Iraqi refugee of brutally raping a 19-year-old woman behind a trash bin in Colonie after meeting her at a downtown bar last year.
Salam Al Haideri, 24, of Niskayuna, faces 25 years in prison after the jury of nine men and three women found him guilty of predatory sex assault and first-degree rape. The panel began deliberating at 11:20. It reached its verdict at 1 p.m. — and that included time for lunch and a brief break to ask the judge a question.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough set sentencing for May 16.
Al Haideri is the third Middle East refugee — all brought to the Capital Region under the same federally funded resettlement program — to be convicted of a sex crime since 2010.
In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Chantelle Cleary played a surveillance video of the distraught 96-pound victim entering a Mobil Mart in Colonie, where she told the clerk, twice: “I just got raped” and said her attacker “smashed my face into the ground.”
Al Haideri and a friend had met the victim, whom neither man knew, at the Buddha Tea House club on North Pearl Street in the pre-dawn hours of June 2, 2013. The 4-foot-11 woman got in their car and, during the ride, Al Haideri touched her. She said she wanted to go home and she and Al Haideri argued. When Al Haideri’s friend stopped the car, Al Haideri yanked the woman out of the car and took her behind a trash bin behind “I Love NY” pizzeria on Central Avenue by Vly Road, Cleary said.
Al Haideri smashed the victim’s face into the pavement, ripped open her shorts and raped her for 12 minutes as she begged him to stop, Cleary said.
“This is an act of just pure anger,” Cleary told jurors. “When she started to fight back, he beat her into submission and then he took what he believed he was entitled to.”
Cleary showed the jury a photo of the victim smiling before she went out that night. She then contrasted that with an image of the woman at Albany Medical Center Hospital, where she lay bloody, beaten and bandaged.
“Someone just doesn’t come out of a consensual sexual encounter looking like that,” a man on the jury said after the verdict.
The conviction follows the sex crime convictions of Walid Nehma, 30, an Iraqi refugee who once was a housemate of Al Haideri, and Salah Mhawesh, 34, an Egyptian refugee. All three settled in the Capital Region with help of a program run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany under a contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.
In December 2009, Nehma struck a woman in the face, forced her to the ground, tore her pants open and tried to rape her as she screamed for help in a desolate area next to Capital Repertory Theater. He is serving a 5-year sentence at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County for attempted rape and is due to be released on Dec. 3. Mhawesh pleaded guilty in 2012 to first-degree sex abuse of a woman in his home on Central Avenue. He was sentenced to one year in the Albany County jail, which became time served.
When Al Haideri testified Wednesday, Cleary also questioned him about the assistance he received in jailhouse conversations with Jacqueline Foster, 73, of Niskayuna, his foster mother in the refugee resettlement program.
Al Haideri lived with Foster, who had also allowed Nehma to live with her family for a time.
Foster declined to comment after the conviction.