A North Carolina man has pleaded guilty to killing three Muslim university students in a confrontation which the victims’ families blamed on bigotry.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a Durham courtroom packed with dozens of the victims’ family and friends on Wednesday, more than four years after he shot his neighbours, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, dead in their apartment.
“I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson.
The development came two months after the new district attorney dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long.
Police said Hicks claimed the confrontation stemmed from competition for parking spaces at the condominium complex where they all lived.
The victims’ families said they believed Hicks acted with anti-Muslim hatred.
The women’s father, psychiatrist Mohammad Abu-Salha, testified to a congressional hearing on hate crimes in April that Hicks had expressed hateful comments about his daughters wearing headscarves in observance of their faith.
“Three beautiful young Americans were brutally murdered and there is no question in our minds that this tragedy was born of bigotry and hate,” Abu-Salha testified before the US House Judiciary Committee.
“I must be one of a few physicians, if not the only one, who read his own children’s murder autopsy reports and details,” Abu-Salha, a doctor, said. “They are seared into my memory.”
Police say that in February 2015, Hicks burst into a condo in Chapel Hill owned by Barakat and fatally shot the three.
At the time of the incident, Dean Barakat, 23, was a second-year student at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) School of Dentistry after graduating from NC State.
Yusor Abu-Salha, Barakat’s 21-year-old wife, was also a graduate of NC State and had been accepted to UNC’s dentistry school.
Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor’s 19-year-old sister, excelled as an undergraduate architecture student at NC State.
Barakat was shot several times as he stood in his doorway, autopsy results showed.
His wife and her sister were shot in the head at close range inside the condo.