Man pleads guilty to mur­der of three young Mus­lims

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY JOSH SHAFFER jshaf­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Craig Hicks pleaded guilty Wed­nes­day to shoot­ing three young Mus­lims in their Chapel Hill home, end­ing the 2015 case the district at­tor­ney called an act of “cold-blooded mal­ice” driven by a gun fa­natic’s ha­tred of his neigh­bors’ re­li­gion.

Hicks will serve a life sen­tence in prison with­out the possibilit­y of pa­role for killing his neigh­bors: Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yu­sor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sis­ter Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

Fam­ily mem­bers and lawyers con­nected to the case said Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing cor­rects a 4-year-old nar­ra­tive that mis­tak­enly cast the mur­ders as a park­ing dis­pute rather than a hate crime.

Chapel Hill po­lice at­trib­uted the shoot­ings at the Fin­ley For­est Con­do­mini­ums to a longsim­mer­ing park­ing dis­pute at the time. But many blamed the deaths on anti-Mus­lim big­otry, in­clud­ing the women’s fa­ther, Dr. Mo­ham­mad Abu-Salha, who spoke to a Con­gres­sional com­mit­tee in April.

“This was as much a long­stand­ing dis­pute over park­ing as Rosa Parks was over a bus seat,” said Far­ris Barakat, Deah Barakat’s brother.

Hand­cuffed in court, Hicks told Durham County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Or­lando Hud­son on Wed­nes­day he wanted to plead guilty and take the death penalty early on. He crit­i­cized his at­tor­neys for hold­ing up his case.

“Why has it taken so long?” Hicks asked, telling the judge he first ap­peared in court in 2015. “I un­der­stand the process, but that was over four years ago.”

District At­tor­ney Satana De­berry, who took over the case af­ter de­feat­ing in­cum­bent Roger Echols in last fall’s elec­tion, was not pur­su­ing the death penalty, the judge re­minded him.

“Quite frankly, four years in court in a case that at one time was un­der­stood to be a cap­i­tal case, is not quite that long,” Hud­son said.

On Wed­nes­day pros­e­cu­tors called a behavioral psy­chol­o­gist from Tufts Univer­sity as an

ex­pert wit­ness. Dr. Sa­muel Som­mers said ev­i­dence showed “these were not ran­dom victims of a park­ing dis­pute. ... These victims were seen and in­ter­acted with dif­fer­ently be­cause of who they were.”

“It is about cold-hearted mal­ice and mur­der,” De­berry said. “It is not about park­ing.”

AMER­I­CAN DREAM ‘SLIP­PING FROM HIS GRASP’

As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Ken­dra Montgomery-Blinn por­trayed Hicks as a man with the Amer­i­can dream “slip­ping from his grasp.”

He had lost his job, his third marriage was crum­bling and he com­plained that his hous­ing com­plex was turn­ing into a col­lege dorm, she said.

He ob­ses­sively watched the 1993 Michael Dou­glas movie “Fall­ing Down,” about an un­em­ployed de­fense worker who some­times re­acts vi­o­lently.

Hicks was a “gun fa­natic” who hated all forms of re­li­gion, Mont­gomeryBlin­n said. He kept 13 guns in his house and two in his car, she said.

The pros­e­cu­tor said Hicks be­came obsessed with park­ing and noise at the Fin­ley For­est com­plex, yelling at white neigh­bors and con­fronting mi­nori­ties with a gun.

Deah Barakat and his fam­ily got the worst of it, hear­ing “I don’t like the look of you peo­ple,” Montgomery-Blinn said. Hicks came to the door with a gun sev­eral times.

In a 2014 text, Yu­sor Abu-Salha said, “My neigh­bor is a lu­natic.”

PHONE RECORDED CON­FRONTA­TION

This cul­mi­nated in Fe­bru­ary 2015 when Hicks made a “care­fully calculated choice to de­rail his life en­tirely,” Montgomery-Blinn con­tin­ued.

He con­fronted his neigh­bors again over park­ing rules, which he had been mis­rep­re­sent­ing. Two of the victims’ cars were in proper spa­ces, and a third was on the street.

He chose a gun from his col­lec­tion be­cause of its “dead-on ac­cu­racy,” the pros­e­cu­tor said, and rang his neigh­bors’ door bell and ex­e­cuted the three young Mus­lims while their din­ner lay un­eaten on the table, she said.

Barakat went to his door with his cell phone record­ing, the district at­tor­ney said.

The phone ev­i­dence wasn’t dis­cov­ered un­til weeks af­ter the shoot­ings, Montgomery-Blinn said, of­fer­ing “proof” that Barakat nei­ther cursed nor spoke harshly, as his neigh­bor claimed. On the record­ing, Hicks can be heard say­ing, “If you’re go­ing to dis­re­spect me, I’m go­ing to dis­re­spect you,” Montgomery-Blinn said.

Friends and fam­ily sobbed from the court­room seats Wed­nes­day as pros­e­cu­tors played the record­ing. Barakat’s sis­ter fell to the floor, forc­ing a three-minute re­cess.

“Deah, Yu­sor and Razan were murdered in an Islamophob­ic hate crime,” Deah’s sis­ter, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, said later. “Let’s call this what it was: a ter­ror­ist at­tack.”

In a state­ment Wed­nes­day evening, Chapel Hill Po­lice Chief Chris Blue ex­pressed regret for his depart­ment’s ini­tial char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the crime.

“What we all know now and what I wish we had said four years ago is that the mur­ders of Deah, Yu­sor, and Razan were about more than simply a park­ing dis­pute,” Blue said.

“The man who com­mit­ted these mur­ders un­doubt­edly did so with a hate­ful heart, and the mur­ders rep­re­sented the tak­ing of three promis­ing lives by some­one who clearly chose not to see the hu­man­ity and the good­ness in them,” Blue con­tin­ued. “To the AbuSalha and Barakat fam­i­lies, we ex­tend our sin­cere regret that any part of our mes­sage all those years ago added to the pain you ex­pe­ri­enced through the loss of Our Three Win­ners. And, to the Mus­lim mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, know that you are heard, seen, and val­ued.”

LEGACY SURVIVES

Barakat, an N.C. State Univer­sity grad­u­ate, was a sec­ond-year stu­dent at UNC School of Den­tistry. His wife of six weeks, also an NCSU grad­u­ate, planned to join him in den­tal school that fall. Razan Abu-Salha stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at N.C. State Univer­sity’s School of De­sign.

In their plans for a life in den­tistry, the young cou­ple planned a den­tal re­lief trip to help Syr­ian refugees in Turkey.

Their legacy survives in Raleigh with the Light House Project, a house Deah Barakat owned on Tar­boro Street that has be­come an in­cu­ba­tor for faith-based youth projects. A quo­ta­tion from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stretches across its front: “Dark­ness can­not drive out dark­ness; only light can do that. Hate can­not drive out hate, only love can do that.”

In their state­ments in court, fam­ily mem­bers ex­pressed anger at Hicks for telling Chapel Hill po­lice that Barakat had pro­voked him.

TRAVIS LONG [email protected]­sob­server.com

Namee Barakat, fa­ther of Deah Barakat, com­forts his daugh­ter Dr. Suzanne Barakat, while Dr. Yousef Abu Salha looks on af­ter a video show­ing the mur­ders of Deah, his wife, Yu­sor Abu-Salha and her sis­ter Razan. The video was cap­tured on Deah’s cell phone.

Pool Video

De­fen­dant Craig Hicks raises his hand­cuffed hand to be sworn in be­fore en­ter­ing his guilty plea Wed­nes­day in Durham, N.C.

TRAVIS LONG [email protected]­sob­server.com

Durham As­sis­tant District Ken­dra Montgomery-Blinn wipes her eyes while lis­ten­ing to a vic­tim’s state­ment.

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