Firefighters responding to the apartment building on 116th Street to douse the flames discovered the bound and badly burned remains of victim Azeem Ali.
By Michael V. Cusenza
A Richmond Hill man, convicted in May at his retrial for the savage death of a fellow Richmond Hill resident who was bound with electrical cords, beaten, robbed of his bank card, and then shot in the head before his 116th Street apartment was set ablaze in an attempt to cover up the crime, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced on Thursday.
Stephen Peters, 27, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. His co-defendant, Jason St. Hill, 22, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in February 2017, and is currently serving 12.5 years in prison.
Peters was originally convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, first-degree kidnapping, third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence—however, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the top charges. Peters was subsequently sentenced to 30 years to life in prison in May 2017. He was retried in May on the top charges and convicted after a nearly two-week-long trial.
“The brutality and viciousness of this killing is mind-boggling,” Brown said. “The victim in this case was defenseless after being beaten and restrained, but the defendant still shot him in the head and then in an attempt to cover up the crime set the apartment ablaze -potentially injuring others that lived in the building. Last year a jury convicted this defendant on lesser charges. Last month another jury convicted him of the remaining counts and the court has ruled he is to be imprisoned for the rest of his life.”
According to testimony, Peters and St. Hill arrived at the Richmond Hill home of Azeem Ali, 43, shortly after midnight on Feb. 24, 2013. Inside Ali’s second-floor apartment, Ali was beaten by Peters, his hands and feet were tied with electrical cord, and as St. Hill held a gun on Ali, Peters went down to the building’s basement for gasoline.
Peters returned and demanded and got the victim’s bank card, along with his PIN number; he then shot Ali three times in the head. In an attempt to get rid of the evidence, Peters then poured gasoline on Ali’s body and around the apartment and set the place on fire.
The inferno tore through Ali’s residence, one of two above the A&A Deli Mini Market, located at 118-15 95th Ave., sending the occupants of a second apartment, located in the front of the house, onto the cold sidewalk.
“Somebody was yelling, ‘Fire, fire,’ and there was smoke all over. I got the kids and ran out,” said one of the tenants, a man with two children. On their way out, he said they could see the flames darting in and out of the building’s windows. “It was very frightening,” the man added.
Firefighters responding to the edifice to douse the flames discovered the bound and badly burned remains of Ali in his bedroom.