Grand Jury Returns Five-Count Indictment in Killing of Queens Imam and Aide

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Source: The New York Times

A grand jury has returned a five-count indictment, including one for first-degree murder, against the 36-year-old man accused of the execution-style shootings of an imam and his assistant on a Queens street, prosecutors said on Monday.

The man, Oscar Morel, has also been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the Aug. 13 attack in the Ozone Park neighborhood, prosecutors said.

The authorities said that Mr. Morel had approached the imam, Alauddin Akonjee, 55, and his assistant, Thara Miah, 64, from behind, and shot each man in the back of the head. But officials said on Monday that investigators still had not determined the motivation for the attack.

The Queens district attorney’s office said it had upgraded the charges to include the single count of first-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole, because the episode is believed to have been “the intentional killing of two individuals during the same transaction.”

“The defendant’s alleged actions strike at the very heart of our county’s Muslim community,” the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said in a statement on Monday. “Both victims were gentle men of peace, and their deaths are a devastating loss to their families and the community that they served.”

Mr. Morel was taken into custody the day after the attack and was charged on Aug. 15. In a search of his home in East New York, Brooklyn, investigators found a .38-caliber revolver hidden inside a wall. Ballistic tests confirmed that it was used in the attack. Investigators also found clothing that matched descriptions of what the gunman was said to be wearing, and collected video evidence that connected Mr. Morel and his vehicle, a Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle, to the scene, officials said.

But Mr. Morel’s lawyer, Michael Schwed, said his client denied any involvement in the attack. Mr. Schwed took issue with a police lineup after, he said, a witness picked out someone who was not Mr. Morel as the gunman. He also said that, despite the location of the discovered gun, Mr. Morel had said the weapon was not his.

“He has no idea why that was there,” Mr. Schwed said, speaking to reporters after a brief hearing on Monday in which the indictment was handed up in Queens Criminal Court. “He says he doesn’t know anything about the gun.” Mr. Schwed added that having clothing similar to that worn during the attack was not incriminating. “The clothing is not going to be able to prove anything,” Mr. Schwed said.

Mr. Schwed said Mr. Morel had told him that he had driven through the area near where the shooting occurred, around midmorning on that Saturday; he said he had taken a friend to a medical appointment.

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