Chapel Hill killer Craig Hicks Jailed for life for Murder of 3 Muslim Neighbors

Craig Hicks, the man who killed three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina pleaded guilty to three counts of first degree murder and was given three life sentences. The man fatally shot newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Yusor’s 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill.

What happened that day?

A cellphone video recorded by Barakat that showed the moments leading up to his death was played to the court on Wednesday. It showed Hicks accosting Mr Barakat at his front door, accusing him of taking up his space.

“You’ve got three cars in the lot and I don’t have a parking spot,” Hicks told Barakat in the video, the New York Times reported.

None of the three victims had their cars parked in Hicks’ spot at the time and only two of their cars were present in the lot.

The video showed Barakat speaking calm and politely with Hicks.

“If you’re going to be disrespectful towards me, I am going to be disrespectful of you,” Hicks told Barakat in the video. Hicks responded by opening fire, before shooting at the two sisters.

During the hearing, Hicks said he had wanted to plead guilty “on day one”.

The killings sparked international outrage at the time, with then-US President Barack Obama denouncing the “brutal and outrageous murders”.

Was it a hate crime?

The FBI defines a hate crime as one with an added element of bias against a person’s race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. The agency says: “Hate itself is not a crime – and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.” 

Proving whether something is a hate crime can be extremely difficult.

Hicks’ social media contained multiple anti-religion posts. He had also developed a notorious reputation as a “parking vigilante”, and someone who was obsessed with noises and parked cars, prosecutors said. He was also a “gun fanatic” who had previously confronted people of color with a firearm.

Early on, Chapel Hill police said that they had not ruled out the idea that the shooting was “hate-motivated,” but they strongly doubted it. During the investigation they insisted that the killings were sparked by an on going parking dispute in front of their home. Hicks wife Karen maintains the attacks were not religiously motivated.

Despite everything, Hicks was not charged with hate crimes. The victims’ families are still insisting that their family members were targeted for their religion. However, during Hicks’ trial it was argued that he singled out the three victims, and reacted so violently because of implicit bias.

Honouring the victims

Deah Shaddy Barakat was 23 years old. In his spare time, Barakat volunteered for the homeless, providing them with free dental supplies and food. Barakat was a second-year student in the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina.

On December 27 last year, he married Yusor Abu-Salha. Yusor had graduated from North Carolina State University in 2014 and was about to begin dental studies at UNC.

Her sister, Razan, was studying architecture and environmental design at North Carolina State University and had recently made the dean’s list in her first semester. Razan supported charities such as Global Deaf Muslim, which advocates for equal access to Islam for the deaf and hard of hearing.

May their souls rest in peace.