DURHAM (AP) — The man accused of killing three North Carolina college students — their family says because they were Muslim — is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing Monday to determine whether he could face the death penalty.
Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said in court documents last month he plans to seek the death sentence if Craig Stephen Hicks is convicted of first-degree murder.
Hicks is charged with the Feb. 10 killings of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Police say Hicks, 46, appears to have been motivated by a long-running dispute over parking spaces at the Chapel Hill condominium complex where he lives in the same building as Barakat and his wife.
The victims’ families are adamant that they were targeted because they were Muslims and have pushed for hate-crime charges. The FBI is conducting what it has called a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to the homicide investigation to determine whether any federal laws were violated, including hate crime statutes.
Search warrants filed by Chapel Hill police said Barakat was shot in the head near the entrance to his condo. The two women were found in or near the kitchen. Eight spent shell casings were found at the crime scene, investigators said.
Earlier search warrants listed a dozen firearms recovered from the condo unit Hicks shared with his wife, in addition to the handgun the suspect had with him when he turned himself in after the shootings.
Hicks, who was unemployed and studying to become a paralegal, posted online that he was an atheist and a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Neighbors described him as an angry man who had frequent confrontations over parking or loud music, sometimes with a gun holstered at his hip. His social media posts often discussed firearms, including a photo posted of a .38-caliber revolver.