Fourth Estate Staff
Queens, NY, United States (4E) – The suspected lone gunman in the killings of an Imam and his aide was arrested, charged, and is now facing life in prison as authorities are not ruling out the angle of hate crime.
The suspect, Oscar Morel, was arrested on Tuesday and held without bail. The murder weapon was found inside his home. Ballistic tests were done on the black .38-caliber Taurus revolver and were able to match it to the weapon used to kill the two Muslim men. The gun was said to be placed inside a hole, which he cut out on the wall. The gun is also unlicensed.
His first hearing is set on August 18 and has appeared at the Queens Criminal Court for his preliminary court appearance on Tuesday. Accordingly, 20 family and friends of the victims were in the brief session.
Morel, 35, maintained his innocence but prosecutor Peter McCormick gave out details on how the Imam, Maulama Akojee , and his friend, Thara Uddin , were killed. “The defendant ran up behind both of them and pumped numerous bullets into them, striking them both in the head … leaving them lying on the street mortally wounded.” He called the killing horrendous and despicable acts and noted that it is premeditated assassination.
Morel was officially charged on Tuesday with first-degree murder. If convicted, Morel could face life in prison without parole. He is also charged of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
Aside from the weapon, the prosecutor said that there was an extensive tracing of surveillance video tracing Morel’s route back to Brooklyn from Queens after the killings. After the killings, Morel fled the scene using a black Chevy TrailBlazer . 10 minutes after, he got involved in a confrontation with a cyclist at Pine St. and Pitkin Ave. He was charged with a hit and run as he hit the bicycle with his car. He also attempted to flee when officials went to his home but he rammed his vehicle into a detective’s car.
It remains unclear what the motive in the killing is but hate crime is not being dismissed. Hate crime charges remain a possibility. Morel has one prior arrest for misdemeanor pot possession.
The son of the imam, Saif , said, “I’m feeling very, very sad I lost him. I want to know why (Morel) killed him. My father was a very good guy.”
The landlord of Morel said that the suspect never expressed hatred or dislike towards Muslims. Detectives are looking at the possibility that Morel was hired as a hit man.