Man charged with killing 3 Chapel Hill Muslims expected to plead guilty to murder

A man charged with killing three young Muslims in 2015 is expected to plead guilty to three counts of murder next week, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office said.

Craig Stephen Hicks is charged with first-degree murder in the Feb. 10, 2015, fatal shooting of his neighbors Deah Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and of her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19. Hicks is also accused of discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling in the shootings at the Finley Forest condominiums in Chapel Hill.

The case sparked an international debate on whether the shootings were over an apparent parking dispute, as Chapel Hill police said at the time, or a hate crime, The News & Observer reported.

In April Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told a U.S. congressional committee that the killings of his daughters and his son-in-law were born out of bigotry and hate, The News & Observer reported.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry said recently that Hicks would go to trial this summer and that he would be arraigned next week..

At an arraignment, a defendant tells a judge whether he is guilty or not guilty. If a defendant pleads guilty, often part of a pre-arranged plea deal, he or she typically is often sentenced then.

If a defendant pleads not guilty, then the case moves closer to trial.

A court calendar indicates Hicks is due in court Wednesday, June 12, for a plea., and Sarah Willets, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office said he is expected to plead guilty.

A message left with Steve Freedman, one of Hicks’ attorneys, on Wednesday wasn’t returned.

Last week, Farris Barakat, brother of Deah Barakat, said he was told about an arraignment and heard there was “a chance” there would be plea.

The families wouldn’t support anything less than first-degree murder convictions, he said. First-degree murder convictions require an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deah Barakat, an N.C. State University graduate, was in his second year at the UNC School of Dentistry.

His wife of six weeks, also an NCSU graduate, was planning to attend the School of Dentistry in the following fall, The News & Observer has reported.

Razan Abu-Salha was an architecture student at NCSU’s School of Design.

Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.