[UPDATE] Police charge two men in death of Richmond Hill man found bound in blaze

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

Two men have been arrested on kidnapping, murder and arson charges in connection with a fire in Richmond Hill early Sunday morning in which a 43-year-old man was found burnt to death with his hands and feet bound, police said.

Jason St. Hill, 17, and Stephen Peters, 22, are accused of killing 43-year-old Azeem Ali, police said. The young men live on 95th Avenue near 116th Street, less than a block away from the house on 116th Street near 95th Avenue where Ali was found burned to death, police said.

The pair face charges of second-degree murder, kidnapping, arson, burglary, robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of stolen property, police said.

A 911 call came in at 2:35 a.m. Sunday for a fire on the second floor of a private dwelling, the FDNY said. Firefighters were on the scene five minutes later and the fire went to a second alarm, with 25 units and more than 100 firefighters on the scene, the FDNY said.

Neighbor James Penfold, 48, said he was asleep at the time, but the fire trucks woke him up.

“You could see smoke coming out from behind the building,” Penfold said.

He said he thought the building would be completely destroyed, but the Fire Department was able to put out the blaze about 45 minutes later.

The FDNY classified the fire as incendiary.

When the fire was extinguished, officers found Ali with his hands and feet tied up and severe burns to his body, police said.

“It’s always a shock whenever something like this happens right around the corner from you,” said 54-year-old neighbor Debra Singh.

The fire scorched almost all of the roof and a large section of the second floor. A mini-mart connected to the building was safe enough that workers went in and out behind the police cordon.

Penfold said on the first floor, which was largely untouched, there were five garages where he kept two collector’s cars and another person stored race cars. Someone else ran a sign-making business out of one of the garages, he said.

Penfold said his own cars only sustained slight water damage in the blaze.

He said the only other fire in the neighborhood that he remembered had occurred 10 years ago when someone was smoking in bed.

He said given the amount of flames and the location where the fire started in the building, he was not surprised that it was designated as suspicious.

“For the building to go up in that manner, it doesn’t make sense,” Penfold said.

Debris including charred furniture, clothes and a rug rested in front of the garages around midday Sunday.

“This is our neighborhood. It’s bad,” said neighbor Hem Raj Tohan, 62.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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