A “cowardly” man convicted of murdering a mother of nine and her nephew in their own home has been handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 40 years in prison.

Drug dealer Obina Ezeoke, 28, killed Annie Ekofo, 53, and psychology student Bervil Ekofo, 21, in a flat in East Finchley, north London, on September 15 2016.

After an unprecedented five trials over four years, he was convicted of the double murder in September.

The first trial in 2017 collapsed after the then trial judge suffered a bad back midway through, and two subsequent juries failed to reach verdicts in 2018 and 2019, despite a majority direction.

Annie Ekofo and her nephew Bervil Ekofo
Annie Ekofo and her nephew Bervil Ekofo (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The fourth trial was abandoned due to the coronavirus lockdown just as the jury was deliberating in March.

The fifth jury to try the case deliberated for 41 hours over eight days to find Ezeoke, of Cambridge Heath, east London, guilty of two counts of murder.

On Thursday, Ezeoke remained expressionless as he was handed the 40-year minimum term.

Sentencing, Mrs Justice Cutts said: “Whatever the motive, you murdered two entirely innocent people.

“Your cold, callous and brutal murders of two people has not only cut short their lives but ruined the lives of many.”

The judge said the killings had been rightly compared to an “execution”.

She said: “As the family slept, a murderer let himself in and shot Bervil Kalikala Ekofo, who was asleep and defenceless on a mattress on the floor, to the head at point blank range.”

She added: “He was not your intended target, but was in the wrong place in the wrong time.

“You have an entrenched criminal lifestyle. Although not unintelligent, you have shunned a law-abiding life.

“Your precise motive for doing so is unclear although I have no doubt that its roots lay in your previous criminal behaviour and desire for revenge.”

She continued: “You must face the consequences of your actions. Whatever those are, Bervil and Annie Ekofo cannot be brought back and their family must always live with their loss.”

Prosecutor Mark Heywood QC told previously jurors that Ezeoke had crept into Mrs Ekofo’s home just after dawn and shot her sleeping nephew, who happened to be staying at the time.

Jurors were told Ezeoke had gone to the flat with the intent to kill one of the residents as “part of a vendetta of violence”.

When Ezeoke came across Mr Ekofo, he shot the student at point blank range, the court heard.

At the noise, Mrs Ekofo went into the hall.

Rather than waving his revolver to scare her off, the killer pulled the trigger for a second time.

James Scobie QC, defending, said the case had a “unique history” due to the multiple trials.

The court considered a whole life order for Ezeoke, but Mr Scobie said while the first murder was planned and premeditated, the second was not.

He said: “Whoever did fire that gun had not intended for there to be a second fatality as part of that expedition.

“This is not the sort of case where a whole life order, which is an order of last resort reserved for the absolute top, top end of exceptionally serious criminality.”

In statements heard before the sentencing, family members of the victims expressed the impact of their murders.

Chantelle Mamie, Mr Ekofo’s mother, said: “I don’t think any words can describe how traumatic it is for a mother to have their child killed.

“We grow to accept that death is a part of life and we should embrace it.

“However, no-one really prepares you for burying your child whose life was taken from them by another.

“I have no more words as my heart is heavy, I just hope that justice continues to be served.”

In a statement, Osman Jeanefey, the husband of Mrs Ekofo, said: “I think about Annie every day, I can’t believe she is gone. Sometimes I feel I will go mad and the image of her dying on the floor is always in my head.

“I hope that our lives will be better and God will give me the strength to stop crying. There is so much sadness in our house now.”

Ezeoke had denied any involvement in the murders and told successive juries that he had an alibi for the time of the shootings.

He has already served 1,472 days in prison, equivalent to four years and 11 days, which will be taken into account.

After the 40-year minimum term, the Parole Board will decide if or when to release him on licence.

Detective Chief Inspector Garry Moncrieff, who led the investigation, said: “Annie and Bervil were brutally gunned down in what should have been the safety of their family home.

“It appears that they were totally innocent victims, killed as a result of escalating violence between rival groups, and the latest in a series of violent clashes dating back several years.

“This double murder has devastated Bervil and Annie’s families, and I hope that they find some comfort in knowing that the man who killed them has been brought to justice and now faces life imprisonment.

“We will not tolerate the use of firearms on the streets of London, and those who carry guns should know that we will relentlessly pursue anyone involved in gun crime and bring them before the courts where they will face significant prison sentences.”