By Michael V. Cusenza
Oscar Morel, the Brooklyn man convicted in March of the 2016 daylight execution of Ozone Park Imam Maulana Akonjee and his associate and friend Thara Uddin, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced last week.
Morel gunned down the two men as they walked home following prayers at the Al-furqan Jame Masjid Mosque on Glenmore Avenue in August 2016.
“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.”
According to trial testimony, on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, the imam and Uddin were walking on Liberty Avenue near 79th Street just before 2 p.m. when Morel approached them from the rear. Pointing a .38-caliber revolver at their heads, Morel fired several shots and fled the scene. Imam Maulana, 55, was hit four times in the head and body. Uddin, 64, was shot once in the head. Both men were rushed to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where they succumbed to their injuries.
According to trial records, video surveillance from near the scene of the shooting showed Morel exit a black SUV and walk toward the two victims off-camera; moments later Morel was observed on the same video camera running back to his vehicle and leaving the area.
Brown noted that about 12 minutes after the shooting Morel was seen on video surveillance in Brooklyn at Pitkin and Pine avenues where he allegedly hit a bicyclist with his SUV and fled the scene without stopping. A good Samaritan who witnessed the incident followed Morel in his own vehicle to record his license-plate number for authorities.
Brown also cited evidence presented at trial, including the gun that was recovered from Morel’s East New York apartment. Forensic analysis confirmed that the bullets that killed the imam and Uddin were fired from that revolver.
Prosecutors never identified a motive for Morel’s action.
“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. 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,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said minutes after the sentence was handed down last Wednesday. “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. Queens thanks the stellar team at District Attorney Richard Brown’s office for this strong delivery of justice.”
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has served as civil counsel and media representative for the Akonjee and Uddin families, said it welcomed the sentence.