By Naeisha Rose
A Muslim community in southeast Queens may be able to find some semblance of closure after a Brooklyn man was convicted in Queens Supreme Court last week in the 2016 murder of an imam and his friend, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
After a three-week trial Oscar Morel, 37, could be facing life in prison for shooting Imam Maulana Akonjee and Thara Uddin in Ozone Park on Aug. 13, 2016 as they were walking home following prayers at the Al-furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the afternoon, Brown said.
“I am hopeful today’s verdict will bring some closure to the family and many friends of the two men killed,” said Brown.
Akonjee and Uddin were clerics in the Bangladeshi Muslim community, according to a representative of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
“Maulana and Thara came to this country in search of a better life. Instead they found Mr. Morel’s hatred,” said CAIR Executive Director Afaf Nasher. “Nothing can ever replace what Mr. Morel took from us, but this verdict helps show that this city will never accept this sort of heartbreaking violence.”
After a three-week trial it took the jury one day to find Morel, a former janitor at The New School, guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
“This was a senseless act of gun violence in the middle of the afternoon and carried out in a close-knit neighborhood filled with families and children,” Brown said. “The defendant’s actions caused immeasurable grief – not only to the victims’ families, but the slaying struck at the heart of the Muslim community of Queens.”
During a press conference earlier this month before the verdict, CAIR released statistics that anti-Muslim hate crimes, harassment and discrimination increased by 74 percent in 2017 after President Donald Trump’s election into the White House. In 2016 there was on average 3.22 hater crimes per month and in 2017 there were 19.15 hate crimes per month.
There was video surveillance from near the scene of the shooting that captured Morel leaving a black Chevy Trailblazer and walking, then running towards the scene of the crime before 2 p.m., according to trial records.
The actual murder was off-screen, but the surveillance footage also showed Morel running back to his SUV.
After Morel fled the scene, Akonjee, 55, was found with four bullets to the head and body, and Uddin, 64, with one shot to the head. Both were later sent to an area hospital where they died from their injuries.
A Good Samaritan tipped off the police to Morel’s whereabouts in Brooklyn in a completely separate incident the same day that at took place moments after the shooting that led to his capture.
Twelve minutes after shooting the imam and Uddin, another surveillance camera placed Morel in East New York, the Brooklyn neighborhood that borders Ozone Park.
The Good Samaritan witnessed Morel strike a bicyclist with his SUV without stopping in East New York and then he jumped into his own car to follow the defendant in order to get his license number for the police.
Once the police arrived to search the defendant’s home a .38 caliber revolver was recovered behind a kitchen wall at Morel’s apartment.
Forensic analysis determined that the bullets found in the imam and Uddin where from the same revolver, Brown said.
Morel’s sentencing is scheduled for April 18 and he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The defendant now faces spending the rest of his natural life locked behind bars,” Brown said.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose