NEW YORK – a New York City man was convicted Friday of first-degree murder for the broad daylight murder of a Muslim spiritual and his assistant.
A state supreme court jury convicted Oscar Morel, 37, in the fatal shooting of Imam Maulana Akonjee and Thara Uddin, his friend and assistant. The men were shot as they walked home following prayers on Aug. 13, 2016.
Richard A. Brown, district attorney of the borough of Queens, called the killings “a senseless act of violence in the middle of the afternoon and performed in a close-knit neighborhood full of families and children.”
Brown said in a statement that he hopes that the statement “some closure to the family and many friends of the two men killed.”
Morel, Brooklyn, was convicted after a nearly three-weeks long study. Jurors deliberated for about a day and found Morel guilty of one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
He is faced with life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced on April 18.
Some in New York City in the Muslim community called the attack on the two Bengali immigrants a hate-crime, but the prosecutors said the killer’s motive was unclear.
Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued a statement on behalf of the families of the victims expressing gratitude for the conviction.
“Maulana and Thara came to this country in search of a better life, instead they found Mr. Morel’s hatred,” the statement said. “Nothing can ever replace what the Lord Morel took from us, but this ruling helps show that this city will never accept this kind of heartbreaking violence.”
Prosecutors said Morel approached 55-year-old Akonjee and 64-year-old Uddin from behind as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque and shot them both in the head. The victims were rushed to a hospital, where she died.
Morel was arrested the following day after police connected him to a hit-and-run crash near the shooting scene.
Prosecutors said that the police ballistics lab matched a .38-caliber revolver recovered from Morel the basement to the shooting.
Morel denied involvement in the killings.
The New York Post reported that attorney Michael Schwed told jurors during the trial that the police had planted the murder weapon in the Morel home. Justice Gregory Lasak instructed jurors to ignore Schwed’s note.
Schwed said that he would appeal the verdict against his client.