A Brooklyn man convicted of fatally shooting a Muslim religious leader and his associate after they left a Queens mosque in August 2016 was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday.
A jury found Oscar Morel, 37, guilty in March of killing Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, shortly after the pair left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park, according to a news release from the Queens district attorney’s office.
“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,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in the statement.
“All I can say is that the person who committed this crime deserved life in prison,” defense attorney Michael Schwed said in an email Wednesday night. “However, Oscar Morel is not that person. I believe he is innocent and hope that in the not too distant future he will be exonerated.”
His client pleaded not guilty in September 2016 to the charges, which included “one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon,” the release read.
According to prosecutors, Morel approached Akonjee and Uddin on Liberty Avenue near 79th Street on the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2016, shortly after the pair had concluded prayers at the mosque. Morel fired several shots with a .38-caliber revolver, hitting Akonjee four times and Uddin once. Both were pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Prosecutors relied on surveillance footage, the recovered firearm, and other evidence to build their case against Morel in the three-week trial in Queens Supreme Court.
“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,” Brown said.
In a statement, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York, the state’s leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said it welcomed the life sentence.
“The brutal crime, which corresponded with a nationwide surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes, triggered massive demonstrations” in Ozone Park and gained worldwide media attention, the CAIR statement said.