PHOTO: A grand jury on Monday returned a five-count indictment charging Oscar Morel with fatally shooting an imam and his assistant on Liberty Avenue earlier this month. Courtesy of Facebook
By Michael V. Cusenza
A Queens grand jury has returned a five-count indictment charging Oscar Morel with fatally shooting Imam Maulana Akonjee and his associate and friend, Thara Uddin, as they walked home following afternoon prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park, District Attorney Richard Brown announced on Monday.
Both men sustained gunshot wounds to the head and were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where they were pronounced dead.
The indictment charges Morel, 35, with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, Brown noted.
“In addition to the second-degree murder charges, the grand jury has charged the defendant with first-degree murder under subparagraph (1)(a)(viii) of Penal Law Section 125.27,” he said, “which states, in part, that ‘with intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; and . . . as part of the same criminal transaction, the defendant, with intent to cause serious physical injury to or the death of an additional person or persons, causes the death of an additional person or persons . . . ’”
According to the charges, Imam Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, were walking home from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque on Glenmore Avenue in Ozone Park just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13, when Morel allegedly came up behind the two men at the intersection of 79th Street and Liberty Avenue and fired multiple rounds, including a single gunshot wound to the head of both victims.
“The defendant’s alleged actions strike at the very heart of our county’s Muslim community,” Brown added. “Both victims were gentle men of peace and their deaths are a devastating loss to their families and the community that they served. I extend my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and assure them that the law enforcement community will work tirelessly to ensure that justice is done in this case.”
Morel, of East New York, did not attend Monday’s proceedings. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment next month.
Morel has maintained his innocence since he was arrested on Aug. 14. Investigators are still trying to pin down a motive for the murders.
“It wasn’t me,” Morel said to a New York Daily News reporter. “I like all types of religions.”
The Islamic Leadership Council of NY has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for the families of the victims. As of Wednesday evening, more than $81,000 had been raised. The listed goal is $500,000.
“Two families have lost their father, husband, brother, uncle, son and a whole community has lost two beloved Imams dedicated to serving their community,” reads a message on the crowdfunding site. “As you pray for this family and pressure for justice, also remember that the two families are in true need of financial support during this horrible time. Funeral expenses, rent, food, clothing, utilities, and other expenses still need to be paid for over the foreseeable future.”
For more information, visit gofundme.com/ImamsMaulama-Thara.