As Craig Hicks left a Durham county courtroom Monday wearing orange jail garb, Mohammad Abu-Salha turned to him and exclaimed, "Coward scumbag." Hicks looked at Abu-Salha, and simply raised his eyebrows.
Abu-Salha is the father of two of three people whom Hicks allegedly murdered three months ago. Hicks is charged with three counts of first-degree murder following the triple homicide of the Muslim students. On Monday, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. ruled he can face the death penalty.
During an afternoon hearing, prosecutors outlined some of the events surrounding the deaths of Deah Baraket, 23; his newlywed wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan.
On Feb. 10, Hicks arrived at the doorstep of Baraket and Yusor armed with a concealed gun, Assistant District Attorney James Dornfried told the court. Hicks had long been frustrated about parking at the apartment complex, where he and the victims lived. After a brief discussion with Baraket, who answered the door, Hicks shot him several times, and then fired a volley of shots at the Abu-Salha sisters, who were screaming nearby, said Dornfried. Hicks then stepped up to the women, who were still alive, and shot each of them in the head, and then returned to Deah, firing one last round before leaving the apartment, Dornfried said.
Dornfried said that a bloodstain on Hicks' pants contained Yusor's DNA. In addition, Hicks' shirt and pants contained gunshot residue, and bullet casings at the scene matched the gun in Hicks' car.
Hicks, 46, owned a concealed-carry permit, and possessed an arsenal of firearms, including shoguns, handguns and rifles.
Prosecutors cited two aggravating legal factors allowing them to seek the death penalty: Hicks allegedly committed one murder during the commission of another murder; and he allegedly committed murder during the commission of violent crimes against other individuals.
Roger Echols, Durham's recently elected district attorney, is seeking the death penalty despite running an election campaign during which he said he did not personally support capital punishment. Asked during a post-hearing press conference what accounted for the discrepancy in the Hicks case, Echols declined to elaborate because, he said, it would require him to get into the facts of the case, which he is prevented from doing before a trial.
Dornfried says that the discovery period of the case is nearly over. His office is still waiting for the medical examiner's conclusions, forensic reports and a court order linked to a parallel federal investigation. If the federal government decides to prosecute Hicks separately, the charges could include hate crimes.
The next court hearing is scheduled for the week of June 1.
See related story, page 9.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Judge rules craig hicks can face the death penalty."