NEW YORK – The man charged with murder in the death of a Muslim imam and his friend over the weekend in Queens appeared in court on Tuesday (Aug. 16), according to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Oscar Morel appeared in Queens Criminal Court in relation to Saturday’s shooting death of Imam Maulama Alauddin Akonjee, 55, and his friend, Thara Uddin, 64, as they left Al-Furquan Jame Masjid mosque, according to court records. Morel, 35, of Brooklyn, was arraigned on one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and second-degree criminal weapon possession, online court records showed.
Morel was shackled at the hands and feet and wore a tan shirt and black slacks, Reuters reported. He agreed that surveillance video used by police to help apprehend Morel showed him at the scene of the killings and at the scene of a hit-and-run accident about three miles away in Brooklyn, but he denied that he killed the two friends, according to Reuters.
He was ordered held without bail. Judge Karen Gopee set his next court date for Thursday, according to Reuters.
Prosecutor Peter McCormack painted a different picture in court of Morel’s actions.
“The defendant ran up behind both of them and pumped numerous bullets into them striking them both in the head,” McCormack told the court, adding that Morel left the victims “lying in the street mortally wounded.”
Authorities are offering no motive yet in the killings, but NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told The New York Times that a hate crime was not being ruled out.
Uddin’s brother, Mashuk Uddin, told reporters that he believes hate was the motive for the shooting.
“These two people here being killed at one time? What’s the reason? There’s only one reason – that’s the hate crime,” Reuters reported Uddin said.
Morel’s landlord told the New York Daily News that he moved into his apartment about seven months ago, has a girlfriend and told the landlord that he works cleaning a school.
“I don’t understand how he could have done anything like this,” the landlord, Amado Baptista, told the news organization.
Police confirmed Tuesday that they found a revolver in connection with the investigation, but they did not disclose the location.