A 37-year-old New York man faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the slaying of a Muslim cleric and his assistant in August 2016. A state Supreme Court jury spent a day deliberating before returning guilty verdicts on two counts of murder in the second degree, one count of murder in the first degree and a weapons possession charge. Sentencing in the case is scheduled to take place on April 18.

Prosecutors told the jury that the man approached the two victims from behind as they walked home from a Queens County mosque following afternoon prayers. Muslim advocacy groups initially called for the homicides to be classified as hate crimes, but prosecutors chose not to seek this sentence enhancement because the man already faces life behind bars and the motives for the slayings remain unclear.

Police say that they apprehended the man as he approached his SUV. The vehicle had allegedly been involved in a hit-and-run accident and matched the description witnesses gave of the getaway vehicle used by the shooter. A search of the man’s residence is said to have led to the discovery of a handgun that was later determined to be the murder weapon. The man continued to profess his innocence throughout the trial and claims that police planted the gun in his home.

The penalties for violent crimes can be severe in New York, and experienced criminal defense attorneys may suggest that their clients consider a plea agreement rather than taking their chances with a jury when the evidence against them is convincing. Prosecutors usually have onerous workloads, and they may be willing to consider leniency in return for a swift resolution even when their cases are strong.

Source: CBS News, “Man convicted in killing of Muslim cleric and his assistant”, Associated Press report, March 23, 2018

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