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Durham DA will not pursue death penalty against man charged in Muslim students’ deaths

Man charged in murders of 3 students in Chapel Hill makes court appearance

Watch video from the first appearance of Craig Stephen Hicks on Feb. 11, 2015. He is charged with the murders of three students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
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Watch video from the first appearance of Craig Stephen Hicks on Feb. 11, 2015. He is charged with the murders of three students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.

A man charged with killing three Muslim students in their Chapel Hill condo in 2015 will go to trial this summer, Durham County’s district attorney said Thursday.

Craig Hicks is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Deah Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19. The three were shot in their Finley Forest condo in Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015.

Hicks was expected to face a possible death penalty if convicted, but District Attorney Satana DeBerry said she plans to proceed with a “noncapital case” to speed up the process. That means Hicks would receive life in prison if convicted.

DeBerry said she met with the victims’ families and they “have suffered not just the tragic death of three bright, beloved children but the continued delay of the prosecution of their case.”

“The longer we delay the trial of Mr. Hicks, the longer we bring additional suffering to the Barakat and Abu-Salha families,” DeBerry said in a statement. “To insure we are able to bring this case to trial as quickly as possible and help begin the process of healing for the families, I have decided to try this as a noncapital case.”

Barakat, an N.C. State University graduate, was in his second year at the UNC School of Dentistry. His wife, also an NCSU graduate, was planning to join her husband at the School of Dentistry in the fall. Her sister was an architecture student at NCSU’s School of Design.

Hicks, an unemployed community college student who lived in a neighboring condo, turned himself in to Chatham County deputies shortly after the murders.

An FBI report on the shooting was given to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina in 2015 to help determine whether Hicks could be charged with a hate crime. It was not immediately clear Thursday if Hicks faces additional charges.

DeBerry also noted in her statement the “hateful public slurs and comments” that the victims’ families have faced since their murders. The case sparked an international debate over whether the shootings were over a parking dispute or a hate crime.

Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of Yusor and Razan, testified to Congress this week about their murders, she noted.

“Even as he poured out his grief to his fellow Americans, the YouTube Live feed of his testimony was interrupted by racist and anti-Muslim slurs,” DeBerry said. “This is NOT who we are or what we believe in Durham. We believe that every one of our lives matter - regardless of our religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

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