N.C. Man Pleads Guilty To Murdering 3 Muslim College Students

Two of his victims were hoping to work in dentistry. The third was still attending N.C. State.

Craig Stephen Hicks has pleaded guilty to killing three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, N.C., a shocking crime that in 2015 was variously described as being a hate crime, a dispute over parking — or some combination of the two.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry read out three counts of first-degree murder against Hicks, 50, in court Wednesday. Hicks responded "guilty" to each crime, as member station WUNC's Jason deBruyn reports.

After those pleas were entered, deBruyn says, "a prosecutor read out some background about the victims while some family members wept silently in the court behind her."

Deah Barakat, 23, was a second-year student in the University of North Carolina's dentistry school. His wife, Yusor, 21, was also planning to attend the graduate school. Her sister, Razan, 19, was a student at N.C. State University.

Hicks was charged with first-degree murder; police said his actions may have been fueled in part by a parking dispute between neighbors who lived. Hicks and his victims lived at the Finley Forest Condominiums.

"According to prosecutors, during his time at the apartment complex, Hicks would be rude to white neighbors," deBruyn reports from the courtroom, "but to non-white neighbors, he would threaten violence and brandish a gun to intimidate."

The victims' friends and family disagreed with characterizations of the crime as a dispute. It was clear, they said, that Hicks felt special hostility to his Muslim neighbors.

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the two slain women's father, said Hicks had previously threatened the family — and that he followed that up with methodical and very intentional violence.

"It was execution style, a bullet in every head," Abu-Salha told The Charlotte Observer in 2015. "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."

The murders sparked widespread calls for tolerance and engagement with Muslim communities, with vigils and rallies in the victims' memories held as far away as Gaza City.

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