'Cold-hearted malice:' Craig Hicks to spend life in prison for murder of 3 Muslim students in 2015

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The man accused of killing three Muslim students in Chapel Hill in 2015 pleaded guilty to all charges Wednesday morning.

"There was no plea offered to Craig Hicks today. There was no negotiation with him. His hate of Islam drove him to kill three innocent people. He gets no deals. He is now where he should be - relegated to a footnote in history," District Attorney Satana Deberry said.

Craig Hicks, 50, pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

Hicks is expected to receive three life sentences for the crimes.

During the court hearing, Hicks said he had wanted to plead guilty to the crimes since day one and get the death penalty.

Hicks said he was unhappy with his legal representation, saying he didn't understand why it took four years for him to get a court appearance.

After pleading guilty, the state prosecutor was given the opportunity to state the facts of the case.

She started by describing the victims, who were all upstanding citizens pursuing their educational goals so they could further themselves and their community.

"These young people were proud to be Muslims, to be Americans and serving those in need," the prosecutor said.

She then turned her descriptions to Hicks. She said he was a professed atheist who abused women, loved guns and agreed with the ideals advocated by the men's rights movement.

She also quoted Hicks' third ex-wife, saying she described him as "wearing a pistol the way that regular people wear glasses."

Initial reports suggested Hicks' motive for killing the three students was an ongoing dispute over a parking space. In fact, that's what Hicks told investigators when he admitted to the killings.

A licensed psychologist testified that the parking dispute had nothing to do with the murders. The psychologist said Hicks viewed the victims with bias and it was that bias that fueled his motive to seek out and intentionally kill the three Muslim students.

Prosecutors then showed evidence that the three students went so far as to send a map of parking spots available to use to all of their friends who might visit them. Texts showed they did this to make sure nobody parked in the spots Hicks wrongly said were his own spots. Prosecutors said this showed how the students bent over backwards to avoid upsetting Hicks.

Still, according to prosecutors, Hicks intentionally went into his condo Feb. 10, 2015 to get a specific gun and then circled the building looking for the three students before going to their condo, knocking on their door and opening fire before they even opened the door.

Cellphone video of the attack was played in court Wednesday. The video showed the final moments of Deah Barakats' life.

A family member in the courtroom fainted after seeing the video.

Judge Orlando Hudson accepted all facts in the case as they were presented by the prosecution. He then asked for any statements prior to sentencing.

District Attorney Deberry spoke about Hicks and his crime. She said the case was ultimately "about cold-hearted malice and murder...not about parking."

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father to Yusor and Razan, gave an emotional speech to the court

"Thank you to all good Americans who supported us through this: black, white, Christian, Jewish, Atheist and all groups," Abu-Salha said. "I've never seen somebody like this before, who defined this country his own way. The country that we came to, that we knew as the home of the brave and the land of the free, the country that we raised Yusor and Razan to believe in and belong to. They lived as American as apple pie."

"Mr. -- I can't say his name -- his whiteness is not the whiteness of America. The America that we celebrate is where we have civil rights won by the blood of black people, and supported by all the good white people then," Abu-Salha said.

"You had 12 guns, but Deah killed you with a camera," Abu-Salha said. "Today you show the world that they are more American than you are."

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"You had 12 guns, but Deah killed you with a camera."

"Today I will tell you, all colors, anybody in America who fights for freedom and democracy and equality and fights against hate and division, we're all black, regardless of our color. We're all proud of it. We're not giving in. This is our country and we claim it. We will be victors, no matter what you think," Abu-Salha said.

Yusif Mohammad Abu-Salha, brother to Yusor and Razan, addressed the court after his father, calling Hicks "a coward, a small man, a monster, a failure."

"You executed my sisters and best friend in cold blood, out of pure hatred," Abu-Salha said while staring at Hicks.

"You hated them for being Muslim. Deah was much larger than you, he did not fear you "

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Yusif Mohammad Abu-Salha, brother to Yusor and Razan, addressed the court after his father, calling Hicks "a coward, a small man, a monster, a failure."

Deah Barakat's sister also spoke in court, explaining there is "no true justice as long as Deah, Yusor and Razan are robbed of their lives"

"I still can't process looking down into Deah's casket, lips blue, front tooth chipped from a bullet and giving him the last kiss on his cold, ice forehead," Barakat said.

"In our current political climate, it is not only acceptable but indeed advantageous to demonize Muslims"

"Let's call this what is is -- a terrorist attack," Barakat added. "Craig Hicks entered the safety of Deah and Yusor's home and executed them because he didn't like the way they looked. Deah, Yusor and Razan died because they were Muslim."

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"I still can't process looking down into Deah's casket, lips blue, front tooth chipped from a bullet and giving him the last kiss on his cold, ice forehead,"

Deah's brother also spoke in court, telling everyone how impressed he was with how his family has stayed strong throughout the previous four years.

"Light will overcome darkness," he said. "My brother went out in a brave attempt to protect his wife and his house from further intimidation and harassment."

"Today was about justice and reclaiming the narrative. It's rather shameful that in the aftermath in the shootings, Mr. Hicks can turn himself in, act jovially, lie, in a further attempt--not only to have assassinated them, but their character. Then that was the narrative that was picked up and shared."

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"My brother went out in a brave attempt to protect his wife and his house from further intimidation and harassment."

"From now on, history will lift up the lives and legacies of Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha, Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, and Deah Shaddy Barakat - not their tragic and senseless murders," Deberry said. "Today was about showing the love and light in their lives and how their sacrifice has drowned out the darkness that still exists amongst us. We lifted up how their religion now sustains untold acts of kindness and philanthropy in our community. If we remember anything of this day, let us remember the Lighthouse in Southeast Raleigh, or Project Refugee Smiles in Syria, or The Our Three Winners Foundation. Let us remember Razan and Yusor and Deah's commitment to God and family and community. Let us remember that love never dies. And only light can drive out darkness.""

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue released a statement about the case Wednesday afternoon:

"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. 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. To the Abu-Salha 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.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Durham District Attorney's office for the efforts to bring this case to a close. I personally want to express my appreciation to all of the officers, investigators, and other first responders who had any involvement in this case-through the initial response or as part of its investigation.

We hope that today represents an opportunity to look forward and to honor Deah, Yusor, and Razan through continued support and love for every person in our community."

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Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood offers advice for handling similar situations.

While it's impossible to always prevent these troubling crimes, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood told ABC11's Josh Chapin that there are some things you can watch out for.

"If you're in a situation where you observe behavior that's bizarre, troubling or criminal, be a good witness," Blackwood said. "Notify something, someone, notify 9-1-1 or some one of exactly what's going on, where it is, how many people are involved, their behavior what brought this to your attention.

'We often hear people tell us at crime scenes, 'You know I saw this going on last week.' Or 'I saw this yesterday and I just didn't call,'" Blackwood added. "That's too late -- we need people to call us in the moment. The expression is we say see something, say something, there's not a comma in that. It's right now."

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