Craig Hicks may face death penalty in slayings of 3 Muslim students

Story highlights

  • Hicks is charged in the deaths of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Victims' family members have called on authorities to investigate the slayings as a hate crime

(CNN)Craig Hicks, who is charged in the deaths of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, earlier this year, can face the death penalty, a judge ruled Monday, according to CNN affiliates.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. ruled that Hicks' case is "death penalty qualified," WRAL and WTVD reported.
The 46-year-old was arrested February 10 in the deaths of Yusor Mohammad, 21, her 23-year-old husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three were shot in the head.
    Hicks, who was the victims' neighbor, turned himself in to police the night of the killings. The next week, he was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder and a count of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling.
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    He had no prior criminal record, police said.
    Police said "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" might have been a factor in the shootings but also said they weren't dismissing the possibility of a hate crime.
    On what is believed to be Hicks' Facebook page, numerous posts rail against religion. The victims' family members have called on authorities to investigate the slayings as a hate crime.
    The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement in February saying the department's Civil Rights Division, along with the the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of North Carolina and the FBI, have opened "a parallel preliminary inquiry" to determine whether any federal laws, including hate crime laws, were violated.
    "It has always been our position that Mr. Hicks should be held responsible for his actions to the full extent of the law. His killing of three college students was despicable, and now he must face the consequences of his actions," said Rob Maitland, an attorney for Hicks' wife. Karen and Craig Hicks are in the process of divorce.