NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A grand jury returned a five-count indictment against a man charged in the murders of a Queens imam and his associate earlier this month, authorities said Monday.
The indictment charges 35-year-old Oscar Morel with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.READ MORE: Citizen App Seeks 'Field Team Members' To Live Stream Breaking News Stories
If convicted, he faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The defendant’s alleged actions strike at the very heart of our county’s Muslim community,” Brown said. “Both victims were gentle men of peace and their deaths are a devastating loss to their families and the community that they served. I extend my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and assure them that the law enforcement community will work tirelessly to ensure that justice is done in this case.”
Police said Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Uddin were killed near the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park on Aug. 13.
The two men were walking home from the mosque when authorities said Morel came up from behind at the intersection of 79th Street and Liberty Avenue and fired multiple rounds, shooting both victims in the head.
They were taken to the hospital where they were pronounced dead.READ MORE: NYC DOT Asks New Yorkers To Weigh In On Future Citi Bike Station Locations In Brooklyn, Queens
Police said Morel was seen on surveillance video fleeing the area of the shooting in a black GMC Trailblazer. About 10 minutes later, a car matching that description struck a bicyclist nearby in Brooklyn, police said.
Morel was later taken into custody outside a Brooklyn apartment as he approached the vehicle that police had linked to the hit-and-run, authorities said.
He was arrested after ramming the detectives’ car several times in an effort to get away, police said.
Morel initially was charged in connection with the hit-and-run, but those charges were upgraded after police said they recovered a revolver at his Brooklyn home and clothes similar to those worn by the gunman in the surveillance video.
Prosecutors said ballistic evidence proved it was the weapon used in the deadly shooting.
Meanwhile, friends, family and others in the community have demanded that police call the murders a hate crime.
“I know many in the community feel that it was a hate crime,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said last week. “We can’t confirm that, and I’m not going to confirm it at this stage.”MORE NEWS: Queens Pop-Up Helps Showcase Local Vendors, Raises Money For Residents Displaced By Fire
Morel was ordered held without bail following his arraignment on similar charges last week. Brown said he will be arraigned on the indictment at a later date.