DURHAM, N.C. (AP/WNCN) – Craig Hicks, charged with killing three much-admired Muslim university students in Chapel Hill, pleaded guilty Wednesday, more than four years after the slayings, which the victims’ families blamed on bigotry.
Craig Hicks was in court in Durham on Wednesday morning.
Hicks pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count of discharging a firearm into an occupied building. He killed his three Muslim neighbors in February 2015. Family members have said it was a hate crime due to their faith.
Hicks said he wanted to plead guilty from the start, but that he was advised by an attorney not to do so. Judge Orlando Hudson told Hicks it is not a lawyer’s decision. He reminded Hicks that the plea comes after the state recently opted not to seek the death penalty.
A judge heard evidence about what prompted the shootings. Police said Hicks claimed the confrontation stemmed from competition for parking spaces at the condominium complex where they all lived.
The families of 23-year-old University of North Carolina dental student Deah Barakat; his 21-year-old wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha said they believe Hicks acted with anti-Muslim hatred.
In a recently unsealed affidavit, psychology professor Dr. Samuel R. Sommers offers testimony regarding any biases possibly held by Craig Hicks. Hicks told police that the victims were disrespectful to him before the shooting.
The affidavit reveals that the murders were captured on video, information that had previously not been released.
“The cell phone video of the shootings shows no evidence of disrespect,” the document read. It was revealed in court Wednesday that the murders were recorded on Barakat’s phone when he answered the door with his finger on the record button.
The video shows Hicks yell at Barakat and then shoot him multiple times. As Barakat falls to the ground, the phone continues to record audio of Hicks shoot Barakat’s wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Courtroom recording devices were turned off during the playing of the video. Family and friends of the victims in the gallery were in tears, with many muttering things to themselves, according to CBS 17 reporters in court. One said, “You [expletive] scumbag, you piece of [expletive]” at Hicks. The court then went into recess for a few minutes.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue released the following statement.
What we all know now and what I wish we had said four years ago is that the murders of Deah, Yusor, and Razan were about more than simply a parking dispute. The man who committed these murders undoubtedly did so with a hateful heart, and the murders represented the taking of three promising lives by someone who clearly chose not to see the humanity and the goodness in them. To the Abu-Salha and Barakat families, we extend our sincere regret that any part of our message all those years ago added to the pain you experienced through the loss of Our Three Winners. And, to the Muslim members of our community, know that you are heard, seen, and valued.
We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Durham District Attorney’s office for the efforts to bring this case to a close. I personally want to express my appreciation to all of the officers, investigators, and other first responders who had any involvement in this case—through the initial response or as part of its investigation.Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue
We hope that today represents an opportunity to look forward and to honor Deah, Yusor, and Razan through continued support and love for every person in our community.
Since their deaths, the Our Three Winners Foundation was established by family members of the victims.
It aims to end hate crimes “through a preventive, rather than reactive approach.”
Also in the wake of their deaths, Deah’s brother Farris Barakat opened a youth group home in downtown Raleigh called “The Light House Project.”
The Light House Project looks to end Islamaphobia and promote understanding.
The victims were planning to visit Turkey later in 2015 to volunteer in a dental clinic at a camp for Syrian war refugees.
Hicks is being prosecuted by the Durham County District Attorney’s Office as the killings took place in a part of Chapel Hill that is in Durham County.
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