The man charged with killing three Muslim college students will face a death penalty trial after prosecutors told a judge they had strong and incriminating evidence that includes blood from one of the victims found on the accused shooter's pants. After a brief hearing yesterday, the judge ruled that Craig Stephen Hicks is "death penalty qualified." Hicks is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Feb. 10 killings of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Police have said Hicks, 46, appeared to have been motivated by a long-running dispute over parking spaces at the condominium complex near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A prosecutor at the hearing said Hicks had given investigators details of the killings, describing how he went to their residence after issues "involving parking," shot Barakat multiple times when he answered the door, then shot each of the screaming women in the head. The victims' families are adamant that they were targeted because they were Muslims and have pushed for hate-crime charges. A lawyer representing the family members says they aren't focused on retribution. "The family is just enormously sad and confused," the lawyer says. "They are overwhelmed with grief." The FBI is conducting what it has called a "parallel preliminary inquiry" to the homicide investigation to determine whether any federal laws were violated, including hate-crime statutes. (Read more North Carolina stories.)