June 7, 2019 / 7:47 PM / 8 days ago

Suspect in killing of three North Carolina Muslims expected to plead guilty

(Reuters) - A man charged with killing three North Carolina Muslims in a 2015 case that drew the condemnation of then-President Barack Obama is expected to plead guilty to murder charges next week, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said on Friday.

Craig Hicks is expected to enter guilty pleas to the three counts of murder he was charged with nearly four years ago, Durham County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Willets said by telephone. Prosecutors were notified by Hicks’ attorney of his intent to enter the pleas at a court hearing next Wednesday, she said.

Hicks, 50, of Chapel Hill, is also expected to plead guilty to a charge of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling, she said.

Willets declined to say whether an agreement on sentencing had been reached.

The February 2015 murders of a newlywed Muslim couple and the wife’s sister drew international attention and raised concerns among some Muslim advocates in the United States.

Deah Barakat, 23, a University of North Carolina dental student; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, a student at North Carolina State University, were gunned down in a condominium about 2 miles (3 km) from the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.

Obama called the killings “brutal and outrageous murders” in a statement at the time in which he offered condolences to the victims’ families.

Investigators’ initial findings indicated that the shootings were prompted by a dispute over parking, but federal authorities were also looking into whether it was an anti-Muslim hate crime. It is unclear whether any conclusions were reached in that investigation.

Hicks, a paralegal student at Durham Technical Community College since 2012, had portrayed himself on Facebook as an atheist and filled his social media page with anti-religion posts.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler

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