DURHAM, N.C. -- The man charged with shooting three young Muslims at a Chapel Hill apartment complex in 2015 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Wednesday, ending a four-year case that drew international cries of hate crime.
Handcuffed in court, Craig Hicks told Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson he wanted to avoid the death penalty, and he blamed his attorneys for holding up his case.
"Why has it taken so long?" Hicks asked, telling the judge he first appeared in court four years ago. "I understand the process but that was over four years ago."
District Attorney Satana Deberry, who inherited the case after defeating incumbent Roger Echols in the recent election, is not pursuing the death penalty in the case, 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.
Hicks will serve a life sentence in prison for the death of his neighbors at the Finley Forest Condominiums: Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19.
Chapel Hill police attributed the shootings to a long-simmering parking dispute at the time, but many blamed the students' deaths on anti-Muslim bigotry, including the young women's father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, who spoke to a Congressional committee in April.
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 dentistry school that fall. Razan Abu-Salha studied architecture at N,C. State University's School of Design.
Their legacy survives in Raleigh with the Light House Project, a house Deah Barakat owned on Tarboro Street which 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."
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