Church member jailed for life over murder of midwifery student
A “dishonest and manipulative” married father has been jailed for life for murdering a female student who went to his church.
Shohfah-El Israel, whose birth name is Ajibola Shogbamimu, was convicted by a jury at Reading Crown Court of killing Joy Morgan after spending time alone with her – against strict church rules – in December.
The 20-year-old midwifery student’s body has never been recovered, despite extensive police searches of hundreds of acres of land in Hertfordshire.
Israel, who must serve at least 17 years, remained emotionless as he was convicted by a jury of eight women and four men on a single count of murder on Monday after they deliberated for 11 hours and 24 minutes.
Passing sentence, Judge Michael Soole said: “Only you know the circumstances of your terrible deed and why you did it.
“The court has heard the most moving personal statement from Joy’s mother Carol Morgan, which speaks of Joy’s warm, loving and caring personality and character.
“On top of all this must be the very particular and continuing distress and suffering which flows from your cruel and cowardly silence about Joy Morgan’s final resting place.”
Speaking outside court, Joy’s mother Carol pleaded with Israel to reveal the location of the body.
She said: “Give me my baby back, he knows where she is. The way I hear it he was besotted with her… if he loved her give her back up to us so I can bury my daughter.
“If I get to see her before I die I’ll be very grateful.”
Israel lied to police when he was arrested, saying he had dropped Ms Morgan off at her student accommodation in Hatfield after a celebratory dinner at the American-founded Israel United in Christ Church they attended in Ilford, east London, on December 26.
He later admitted he had spent two nights alone with the University of Hertfordshire student in his Cricklewood flat in north-west London.
But he claimed his lies were due to concerns about having broken church rules banning women from being alone with men other than their husbands.
After killing Ms Morgan he attempted to cover his tracks by removing her number from a church Telegram group chat, the court heard, and even kept up the pretence by going to her student house share under the guise of checking on her in the days after she apparently went missing.
A signal from Ms Morgan’s phone, which has never been found, was detected in Israel’s car in the Stevenage area on December 28, at which point the jury was told he was most likely “looking for somewhere to dispose of the body”.
Despite days of police searches in that area, Ms Morgan’s body has not been found.
The keys to her accommodation were discovered in the footwell of his car after his arrest in February.
From the witness box Israel told the jury that Ms Morgan – who he denied having sex with, claiming he saw her as a daughter – had told him she wanted to leave the church.
But fellow worshippers told the court they were shocked by the idea that she might quit the church so suddenly, saying she had found the “familial love” there that she had been craving.
Prosecutor Mark Fenhalls QC previously told the court during the four-week trial that Israel was “one of those people who lies whenever he thinks he can get away with it”.
He added: “The Crown says he is a thoroughly dishonest and manipulative man.”
A video taken less than two weeks before she went missing saw her describe the church as “the best family that I’ve ever had”.
In a message sent in March last year Israel told Ms Morgan she was an “amazing princess” and “a treasure that cannot be measured”.
The jury was not told about flirtatious exchanges Israel allegedly had with other women both before and after the student went missing.
Despite the image he presented of being an upstanding married member of the church he had in fact been using chat-up manuals, in some cases quoting directly from them, during his exchanges with the women concerned.
Israel is originally from Nigeria but has lived in the UK for 22 years.
Despite church members saying they were surprised at her apparent departure, they did not report her missing.
It was her mother, who is not a member of the church, who reported her disappearance to police on February 7, six weeks after she was last seen.
The court heard that Ms Morgan had a difficult family background and had been reported missing previously in 2013 and 2014, but only for a day on each of the two occasions.