Prison Term Handed to Perpetrator of Columbus Imam and Somali Leader’s Killing

A man who abducted, stole from, and murdered a prominent figure in the local Somali and Muslim communities will be barred from seeking early release from prison for a minimum of 73 years.

John Wooden, aged 48, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 38 years, in addition to a mandatory 35 years, during a hearing held on Thursday. It means Wooden would be over 120 years old before he could even apply for parole.

Following a trial in October, a jury convicted Wooden of murder, aggravated murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery in the December 2021 killing of Mohamed Hassan Adam, the 48-year-old imam at Masjid Abu Hurairah mosque on the Northeast Side of the city.

Statements from Adam’s family and members of the religious community moved prosecutors during the hearing before Franklin County Judge Karen Held Phipps.

Abdulkhabir Hassan, one of Adam’s sons, recounted the solemn duty, in accordance with religious tradition, of assisting in lowering his father’s body into the grave.

“I can still feel his head on my hands, his hair slipping through my fingers,” Hassan said. “He raised us and taught us never to touch an elder’s head as a sign of respect, and there he was.”

As Hassan spoke, tears welled up in the eyes of the prosecutors on the case, Assistant Franklin County prosecutors Jack Wong and Debra Gorrell, as well as many of the more than 65 people who filled Phipps’ courtroom for Wooden’s sentencing.

Wooden’s sentencing was postponed from February 5th when he dismissed his attorney, Paul Scarsella, at the last moment and requested a new one.

Adam’s killing deeply affected Columbus’ Somali and Muslim communities. His body was discovered with gunshot wounds inside a van parked in a neglected lot on December 24, 2021. Testimony during Wooden’s trial revealed bullet casings at the scene matched a gun found at Wooden’s residence, which bore his DNA. Additionally, Wooden and Adam had previously met when Wooden sold a box truck to Adam two months before the latter’s death.

Wooden also pleaded guilty on Thursday to two counts of robbery related to bank heists at a Kemba Financial Credit Union branch in Clintonville in December 2021 and January 2022. The sentences for these counts will run concurrently with the prison term for Adam’s murder.

Wooden, with an extensive criminal record according to court records, had been released from federal prison on unrelated charges less than a year before Adam’s murder.

On Tuesday, Wooden’s co-defendant, Isaiah Brown-Miller, aged 24, was sentenced to between 26 and 31 years in prison for his involvement in Adam’s kidnapping and robbery.

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