A New York City court has sentenced a local man to life in prison without chance of parole for the August 2016 double-homicide of two Bangladeshi immigrants, including the imam of a mosque in Queens.
The New York borough court handed the sentence against Oscar Morel, 37, on Wednesday for “the daylight execution” of Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant Thara Uddin as the two were walking home from the Al-furqan Jame Masjid Mosque following their afternoon prayers in the Ozone Park neighborhood, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
“The defendant in this case showed not an ounce of sympathy or respect for human life when he gunned down the beloved spiritual leader and his associate moments after the two men left a nearby mosque,” Brown said in a statement released by his office.
“A jury weighed all the evidence and found the defendant guilty. Today the Court imposed the maximum penalty permitted by law – life in prison without the possibility of parole.”
The “cowardly actions” by Morel, a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., “did not just take the life of two admired men, but the killings ripped at the heart of the Muslim community – our community,” the Queens D.A. added.
In March, following a three-week trial at the Queens Supreme Court, Morel was convicted of the double-slayings. He was found guilty of one count first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, Brown said.
According to testimony given at the trial, Morel approached the two men from behind, pointed a .38-caliber revolver at their heads and fired several shots before fleeing the scene. Akonjee, 55, suffered four shots to the head and body and Uddin, 64, was shot once in the head. Both victims were taken to a nearby hospital where they were pronounced dead, the statement said.
But the motive -- what drove Morel to commit the twin killings -- remained unclear as he was sentenced on Wednesday.
“There’s no ostensible, obvious motive here, nor did I prove a motive at the trial,” Prosecutor Peter V. Lomp said before the sentencing, according a New York Times report.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Muslim civil rights advocacy group, welcomed the sentencing by Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak. CAIR said the Saturday afternoon slaying on Aug. 13, 2016 had “corresponded with a nationwide surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes” in the United States.
“Rather than explaining what drove these hateful murders, Mr. Morel has done nothing more than divert attention through his fantasies and fairy tales about conspiracies against him,” Albert Fox Cahn, the legal director of CAIR’s New York office, said in a press release.
“The facts of this case are painfully clear: two of our Muslim neighbors were gunned down in broad daylight, in the middle of New York City, while doing nothing more than walking home from prayers,” he said. “Today, the court showed that our Muslim neighbors are protected by the full force of the law, that they cannot be attacked without the perpetrators being brought to justice.”