“We’re all back to business, my family as well,” Abu-Salha said. “We’re just trying to move forward with dignity and be there for each other.”
Craig Stephen Hicks has been indicted with three counts of first-degree murder for shooting UNC School of Dentistry student Deah Barakat; Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha; and Yusor’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, on Feb. 10 in their Chapel Hill apartment. Hicks was their neighbor at Finley Forest Condominiums.
The FBI handed over their files to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District for deliberation of federal prosecution for a hate crime. The state court decided Hicks qualifies for a death penalty prosecution in April.
According to the FBI, when a criminal offense committed is motivated by a bias against factors like race and religion, it can be considered a hate crime. Hicks’ actions invoked debate about whether the crime was motivated by religious bias.
But a problem exists: Proving a hate crime can be difficult. In this case, police say the shooting was triggered by a dispute over a parking space.
“It’s always hard to prove a motive,” said UNC law professor Joseph Kennedy. “The easiest to prove is when someone makes direct statements about their motivations.”
Under the federal hate crime statute, the prosecutor will have to prove the crime would not have occurred without the bias. For this particular case, Kennedy said a hate crime indictment might not make a difference to the sentencing, since Hicks has been indicted with first-degree murder. Kennedy said he will likely get life in jail without parole or the death penalty.
Another problem was that hate motive is not listed as an aggravating factor under the North Carolina death penalty. North Carolina’s hate crime statute also doesn’t cover homicide cases.
“One might argue on an expressive level that a hate crime charge might indicate an important interest in sending a message to society about the dangers of hate bias,” Kennedy said.
Muftah Lawal, a Raleigh resident who is active in the Muslim community, said he believes strongly this is a hate crime.
“All indications point in that direction, and a lot of people think it’s true, even non-Muslims,” Lawal said.
He said he thinks Hicks should get the death penalty, regardless of race or religion.
“If you kill, you have to be killed,” he said.
Yousef Abu-Salha was studying in the Caribbean when the tragedy occurred. He came home and enrolled in the UNC medical school to be close to his family.
Like Kennedy, Yousef Abu-Salha is not sure if the hate crime can be proven.
“I don’t believe that three young, charming individuals are killed execution-style from point-blank range over a dispute,” he said.
“Whether there is enough evidence to prove that is another question.”
But his concerns stop at the possibility of a death penalty sentence for Hicks.
“I’m not too worried about his fate — I’d rather spend my life thinking about my sisters’ and my brother-in-law’s legacy,” he said.
“I’m not going to be consumed by the fate of a murderer. I have faith in the justice system.”
Other than that, Yousef Abu-Salha, his family members and the Muslim community are busy honoring the victims, who were very involved in philanthropy work.
“There is a lot of things going on still,” Yousef Abu-Salha said. “I believe that we will keep it going.”