By Bill Parry
A Brooklyn man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday without the possibility of parole for the daylight execution of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and his associate and friend Thara Uddin, 64, in Queens nearly two years ago, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
The two men were shot to death as they walked home following prayers at the Al-furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Ozone Park in August 2016.
Oscar Morel, 37, was convicted in March following a nearly three-week-long trial before Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak. The jury found the defendant guilty of one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of criminal possession of a weapon.
“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. “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 two Bangladeshi Muslim scholars were walking down Liberty Avenue in religious garb on Aug. 13, 2016 just before 2 p.m. when Morel approached the men from behind and pointed a .38 caliber revolver at their heads, according to trial testimony. Morel fired several shots and ran from the scene. The imam was hit four times in the head and body. Uddin was shot once in the head. Both men were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
“The cowardly actions of this defendant did not just take the life of two admired men, but the killings ripped at the heart of the Muslim community — our community,” Brown said. “It is my hope that today’s conclusion to this case brings some closure and comfort to the many family and friends of the victims.”
Morel was caught by video surveillance approaching the two victims who were off camera. Morel is seen again in the same video running back to his vehicle and leaving the area, according to trial records. Further evidence presented at the trial included the .38 caliber revolver that was recovered from Morel’s home. Forensic analysis confirmed the bullets that killed the imam and Uddin were fired from that firearm.
No motive for the execution was ever discovered, and Morel once again declared his innocence before Lasak delivered his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“You’re going to be haunted by what you did,” Lasak said, according to The New York Times. “It may not hit you right way, but day after day, year after year, you’re going to be up behind those cold steel bars and concrete walls on the New York State prison and you’re going to have to deal with this in your own conscience.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thanked the “stellar team” at District Attorney Brown’s office for the strong delivery of justice.
“Morel executed Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin mere blocks from the mosque in cold blood, from which the community still reels and mourns to this day,” Katz said. “The two men were fathers devoted to their faith, their families and the community, and their murder shook the community and instilled fear through its core. The justified sentence delivered today sends a powerful message that in Queens, such heinous acts of hate will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr