RALEIGH – Wake County jurors on Monday found a 55-year-old Raleigh man guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his wife and of second-degree murder in the death of their 2-year-old daughter.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Henry Hight sentenced Elhadji Seydou Diop to life in prison without parole for the death of his wife, Aminata “Ami” Drame, who was 40.
The Superior Court judge sentenced Diop to an additional 20 to 25 years behind bars for the death of the couple’s daughter, Fatim Diop.
Prior to sentencing, prosecutor Lorrin Freeman read a brief statement from Drame’s sister, Maimouna Diop, that summed up the impact of the family’s loss.
Police officers went to the family’s West Raleigh townhouse on April 5, 2016 after Diop’s sister, who lives in Dakar, Senegal, saw photos of the dead bodies of Drame and Fatim that Diop had posed, photographed and posted on his Facebook page that day.
Testimony during the trial indicated that the husband and wife were arguing about financial difficulties. The verbal dispute became physical, and the couple ended up wrestling on the floor. Medical examiners think Fatim may have been fatally smothered while underneath the combatants. Prosecutors said Diop strangled his wife with such force it fractured the cartilage of her larynx and cut off oxygen to her brain before she died.
Maimouna Diop, in the letter read by Freeman, told the court that each morning, she awakens and realizes she’s never going to see her beloved sister and niece again. She said she has endured pain and anguish since her sister’s death.
“She was my children’s favorite aunt and my best friend,” Freeman read on behalf of the bereaved sister, who is now raising Drame’s teen daughters.
“No more family gatherings, cooking competitions or beauty expertise,” Maimouna Diop wrote in the letter. “Our family is forever broken. The financial impact was devastating from the moment she married him.”
Family members sobbed and held one another while Freeman read how Drame’s sister, who is a Muslim, questioned
God [Allah] and considered becoming a non-believer and was left feeling “lonely and hopeless” after the slayings.
Maimouna Diop wrote that one of the bathtubs in her home is still filled with Fatim’s toys. Her husband’s dresser drawer is still filled with the child’s favorite lollipops. And her family continues to struggle while trying to derive meaning from Ami’s death.
Elhaddji Diop’s lawyer, Charles Caldwell, called the murders, “a regrettable tragedy.”
Monday’s guilty verdicts and sentencing marked the sixth day in the trial of Diop, a native of Senegal and former long-distance truck driver who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Prosecutors say Diop, after the 2016 killings, posed the bodies of the victims, then took photos and posted them on his Facebook page like they were “trophies.”
Caldwell, the defense attorney, called the eerie Facebook posting “a shrine” that Diop had created, “for the most beautiful people in the world.”
Diop, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, a sky-blue shirt and striped-blue necktie, was flanked by his lawyers when he stood for sentencing early Monday afternoon.
“No sir,” Diop answered when Hight asked if he had anything to say.
“Yes sir,” Diop replied when the judge asked if he objected to paying $25,500 in legal fees.
“I’m going to order that anyway,” Hight told him.
Diop could have avoided life without parole. He appeared in Wake County Superior Court in late September of last year and rejected a plea agreement that would have allowed him to avoid a trial.
The unexpected move stunned Drame’s family and friends. Diop had agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and would have spent between 30 and 38 years in prison. Instead, Diop entered pleas of not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.
Freeman said prosecutors thought from the onset that the charges of first-degree murder were appropriate in the case.
“We had hoped to spare Ami’s teen daughters the pain of a trial,” she said after Monday’s verdict.
Senegal is more than 96% Muslim.