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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 17°C
# chapel hill
Thousands flock to funeral of Muslim shooting victims
A potential motive was a dispute over parking spaces.

APTOPIX Three Killed North Carolina AP Women mourn during a vigil for three people who were killed at a condominium near UNC-Chapel Hill, AP

RELATIVES OF THE three Muslim college students killed in North Carolina are pressing for hate crime charges against the alleged shooter, but legal experts say such cases are relatively rare and can be difficult to prove.

Police in Chapel Hill say they have yet to uncover any evidence that Craig Stephen Hicks acted out of religious animus, though they are investigating the possibility.

As a potential motive, they cited a longtime dispute over parking spaces at the condo community where Hicks and the victims lived.

Three Killed North Carolina AP AP

Hicks, 46, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

The FBI is now conducting a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to determine whether any federal laws, including hate crime laws, were violated in the case.

Three Killed North Carolina AP Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, left, the father of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, and Namee Barakat, right, the father of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, mourn during a funeral service at the Method Road Soccer Complex, AP

Search warrants filed in a court on Friday showed Hicks listed a dozen firearms taken from his condo unit.

The warrants list four handguns recovered from the home where he lived with his wife, in addition to a pistol the suspect had with him when he turned himself in after the shootings.

Warrants also listed two shotguns and six rifles, including a military-style AR-15 carbine, and a large cache of ammunition.

International outrage

A press release from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, says the group’s leader thanks the American people for “rejecting the murder which bear the symptoms of a hate crime.”

Suzann Barakat AP Suzann Barakat, front right, addresses members of the media on the death of her brother Deah Shaddy Barakat as her parents Namee and Layla Barakat, left, embrace behind her AP

Secretary General Iyad Madani also says the slaying of the students has heightened international concerns about “rising anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobic acts” in the United States.

“No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” President Barack Obama said Friday in Washington.

And in New York, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply moved” by the thousands attending the victims’ funeral this past week.

APTOPIX Three Killed North Carolina AP People gather at UNC-Chapel Hill's Pit to mourn for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha AP

Jordan’s Embassy in Washington said its ambassador visited the families Friday. Yusor Abu-Salha was born in Jordan, as where her parents. The younger sister was born in the US.

Family members say all three were shot in the head, though police aren’t saying exactly how the victims died.

“This has hate crime written all over it,” said Dr Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, addressing the funeral service Thursday for his daughters and son-in-law. “It was not about a parking spot.”

Craig Stephen Hicks AP This image provided by the Durham County Sheriff's Office shows a booking photo of Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who was arrested on three counts of murder AP

To win a hate-crime conviction, however, legal experts say prosecutors would have to prove Hicks deliberately targeted those killed because of their religion, race or national origin.

North Carolina does not have a specific “hate crime” statute, though its laws cover such acts of “ethnic intimidation” as hanging a noose, burning a cross or setting fire to a church.

Colon Willoughby, who recently retired after 27 years as the top prosecutor for North Carolina’s largest county, said he could remember only a handful of such ethnic intimidation cases.

The reason, the former District Attorney for Wake County says, is that the defendants often already faced potential charges with stiffer criminal penalties than the comparatively light punishments carried by an ethnic intimidation conviction.

Three Killed North Carolina AP Flowers sit outside the apartment building where the three people were killed AP

Hicks will likely face either the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of the murder charges, he noted, adding any evidence of motive would be important to prosecutors.

“‘Hate crime’ is really just another way of describing the motive for why a crime was committed,” Willoughby said.

As a prosecutor, you want the jury to understand the motive for the crime and you would present the very same information … look at his mindset, and use these things to prove motive.

Hicks, who was unemployed and taking community college classes, posted online that he was a staunch advocate of Second Amendment rights.

Neighbours described him as an angry man in frequent confrontations over parking or loud music, often with a gun holstered at the hip. His social media posts often discussed firearms, including a photo posted of a .38-caliber revolver.

Three Killed North Carolina AP AP

An avowed atheist, Hicks appeared critical of all faiths in Facebook posts.

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols, with jurisdiction over the shootings, said he hasn’t decided whether to bring any ethnic intimidation charges in the case.

Federal authorities could potentially bring separate civil rights charges against Hicks. Federal hate-crimes laws give prosecutors wide latitude to bring charges for violent acts triggered by race, ethnicity, religion or perceived sexual orientation.

Three Killed North Carolina AP AP

In 2012 when statistics were last available for such a tally, law enforcement agencies nationwide reported 5,796 “hate crime incidents.” It’s unclear how many yielded criminal convictions.

Meanwhile, experts said it would be highly unusual for federal authorities to step in if state officials have already won murder convictions with lengthy prison time.

Read: Man charged with murder after three Muslim students killed>

Associated Foreign Press
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