Craig Hicks, who is charged with three counts of first-degree murder following the triple homicide of three Chapel Hill students two months ago, may be tried capitally, a Durham judge ruled today.
During an afternoon hearing, prosecutors outlined some of the details surrounding the deaths of Deah Baraket, 23; his newlywed wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan. On Feb. 10, Hicks, a neighbor, arrived at the doorstep of Baraket and Yusor armed with a concealed gun, and frustrated about parking spots, Assistant District Attorney James Dornfried said.
After a brief discussion with Baraket, who answered the door, Hicks shot him several times, and then fired a volley of shots at the Abu-Salha sisters, who were screaming nearby, said Dornfried. Hicks then stepped up to the women, who were still alive, and shot each of them in the head, and then returned to Deah, firing one last round before leaving the residence, Dornfried said.
Dornfried said that a bloodstain on Hicks' pants contained Yusor's DNA, that his shirt and pants contained gunshot residue, and that the bullet casings at the scene matched up with the gun in Hicks' car.
Hicks, 46, owned a concealed-carry permit, and possessed an arsenal of firearms, including shoguns, handguns and rifles.
Prosecutors cited two aggravated factors allowing them to seek the death penalty: Hicks allegedly committed one murder in the commission of another; and he allegedly committed murder in the commission of violent crimes against other individuals.
Roger Echols, Durham's recently elected district attorney, is seeking the death penalty despite running an election campaign in which he said he did not personally support capital punishment. Asked during a post-hearing press conference what accounted for the discrepancy in the Hicks case, Echols declined to elaborate because, he said, it would require him to get into the facts of the case, which he is prevented from doing before the trial.
Dornfried says that the discovery period of the case is nearing completion. His office is still waiting for the medical examiner's report, the downloading of certain forensic material onto a hard drive, and the processing of a court order linked to a parallel federal investigation. If the federal government decides to prosecute Hicks separately, the charges could include hate crimes. All three victims were Muslims.
Family members of the three victims filled up a portion of the courtroom gallery. As an unshaven Hicks was leaving the courtroom in orange jail garb, Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the sisters, turned to him and shouted, "Coward scumbag." Hicks looked at Abu-Salha, and simply raised his eyebrows up and down.
The next court hearing is scheduled for the week of June 1.