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Craig Hicks Eligible For Death Penalty For Chapel Hill Shootings

Craig Stephen Hicks at an April 6th court hearing.
Reema Khrais

The suspect in the fatal shootings of three young Muslim-Americans in a Chapel Hill apartment in February is eligible to receive the death penalty if convicted, a Durham County Superior Court judge said on Monday.

Durham County District Attorney Assistant Jim Dornfried gave a more detailed narrative of the shooting, explaining that Craig Stephen Hicks had the blood of one of the shooting victims and gunshot residue on his clothes. 

Hicks is charged with the killings of Razan Abu-Salha, 19; her sister, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her husband, 23-year-old Deah Barakat.

On the night of the shootings, Hicks arrived at his home in the Finley Forest condominium complex in Chapel Hill from Durham Technical Community College and walked to the apartment of his neighbors, Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat, Dornfried said.

Barakat answered the door and briefly interacted with Hicks before he pulled out his concealed firearm, Dornfried told Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson at today’s hearing.

“Up until that point there had not been any physical altercation,” Dornfried said.

Hicks shot Barakat multiple times, Dornfried said. Because of the open layout of the apartment, both Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha observed the shooting and began screaming. Hicks then turned his attention to the women and shot them multiple times, Dornfried said.

“They were alive after the first volley of shots toward them. Each one of these women were then shot in the head,” Dornfried added.

Before Hicks exited the apartment, he shot Barakat a final time. Shortly after, Hicks turned himself into law enforcement in Chatham County.

Dornfried said the accounts were based on numerous amounts of forensic evidence, including DNA evidence that showed Yusor’s blood on the pants of the defendant. Hicks also had gunshot residue on his pants and shirt, and the shell cases at the scene matched the firearm uncovered from the defendant’s car.

Parents and siblings of the victims attended the April 6th court hearing.
Credit Reema Khrais
Parents and siblings of the victims attended the April 6th court hearing.

The parents and siblings of the victims quietly observed the hearing. Afterwards, as the father of Yusor and Razan walked out of the room, he turned back and called Hicks a “coward, scumbag." 

“They were here today because they wanted to see this man who caused the death of their children,” said Joe Cheshire, the family’s attorney. “They wanted people to see how much they love and support the memory of their children.”

The families are still grieving and they are not looking for retribution, Cheshire said.

“As this unfolds, you’ll find that the details of what actually happened are horrific and make this case even sadder than in your wildest dreams,” he added.

Federal Investigation Continues

Razan Abu-Salha, 19, was a design student at North Carolina State University and planned to become an architect. On the day of the shooting, she was joining her sister, Yusor Abu-Salha, and brother-in-law, Deah Barakat, for dinner.

Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, had recently graduated from NCSU and planned to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s dental school in the fall, where her husband, Deah Barakat, 23, was a second-year student.

The two got married last December and honeymooned in Los Angeles and Mexico. After returning from their trip, Yusor Abu-Salha moved into the Finley Forest condominium complex in Chapel Hill where Barakat was already living.

Hicks, who was unemployed and studying to become a paralegal, posted on Facebook that he was an outspoken atheist, while railing on religion.

Immediately after the shooting, people from around the world took to social media to denounce their deaths as an anti-Muslim hate crime. The father of Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha said his daughters felt uncomfortable and hated around Hicks. Friends of the victims have also reported that Hicks came by the apartment on at least one occasion and flashed his gun while warning them to quiet down.

Chapel Hill police, as well as Hick’s wife, Karen Hicks, attributed their deaths to a longstanding parking dispute. According to different reports, Hicks often complained about residents and visitors parking in his reserved space.

The FBI has been conducting a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to the homicide investigation to determine whether any hate crime statutes or other federal laws were violated.

Search warrants show that Hicks had a stash of roughly a dozen firearms in his home, most of which were fully loaded, along with a supply of ammunition.

Inside the apartment, investigators recovered one watch, three iPhones, eight shell casings in the living room, two sets of keys, one black wallet, a bullet, and a set of keys with N.C. State key chains that belonged to Barakat.

Since the shootings, family, friends and community members have honored the three through various fundraisers and events.  North Carolina State University and Al-Iman School in Raleigh, two of their alma maters, set up scholarship endowments in their names.

More than $500,000 has been donated toward a fund Deah Barakat created to help provide dental care and relief to Syrian refugees. Barakat was planning on traveling to Rihaniya, Turkey with local dentists and faculty from UNC School of Dentistry this summer.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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