Death penalty says US prosecutor over hate crime against Muslims

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SHAFAQNA – Prosecutors plan to seek the death sentence for a man accused of killing three young Muslims in North Carolina in a case that garnered national attention and calls to investigate a potential hate crime.

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said in court documents filed last week that he plans to seek the death sentence if Craig Stephen Hicks is convicted of first-degree murder. A hearing for Hicks scheduled for this week was postponed, but Echols’s filing noted that one was required within 45 days on the prosecution’s request to seek the death penalty.

Neither Echols nor Hicks’ defense attorney returned calls seeking comment Tuesday. Chapel Hill police spokesman Josh Mecimore said Hicks is cooperating with investigators.

Hicks, 46, was charged with killing 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, on Feb. 10.

Police said the shootings appear to have been triggered by a long-running and angry dispute over limited parking at the condominium complex where Hicks, Barakat and his wife lived.

The victims’ families have said religious bias helped inflame what might have stopped at shouting into bloodshed.

The FBI is conducting what it’s called a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to the homicide investigation to determine whether any hate-crime or other federal laws were violated.

Search warrants filed by Chapel Hill police said Barakat was shot in the head near the entrance to his condo. The two women were found in or near the kitchen, police said.

Family members said they were told by police that all three victims were shot in the head, though police have refused to specify how the victims died. Eight spent shell-casings were found at the crime scene, investigators said.

Earlier search warrants listed a dozen firearms recovered from the condo unit Hicks shared with his wife, in addition to the handgun the suspect had with him when he turned himself in after the shootings.

Hicks, who was unemployed and studying to become a paralegal, posted online that he was a staunch advocate of the constitutional right to bear arms. Neighbors described him as an angry man in frequent confrontations over parking or loud music, often with a gun holstered at the hip. His social media posts often discussed firearms, including a photo posted of a .38-caliber revolver.

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