3 life sentences without parole for US man who killed 3 Muslims in 2015

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Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were killed in Chapel Hill in 2015. (Facebook.com/ourthreewinners)
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Craig Hicks admitted killing the three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in court in 2017. (AP/ File)
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Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, were killed in Chapel Hill in 2015. (Facebook.com/ourthreewinners)
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Namee Barakat hugs a female relative during a news conference in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015 about the death of his son, Deah, his daughter-in-law and her sister. (AP Photo/File)
Updated 13 June 2019
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3 life sentences without parole for US man who killed 3 Muslims in 2015

  • Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder
  • Relatives say Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha,and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were killed in 2015 because of their religion

NORTH CAROLINA: Moments after a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to gunning down three Muslim university students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings in the courtroom Wednesday as one of the victims’ relatives fainted, others wept openly and a man hurled an expletive at the confessed killer.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a packed Durham courtroom. It came two months after incoming District Attorney Satana Deberry dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long.
“I’ve wanted to plead guilty since day one,” Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. The judge said Hicks had agreed as part of his plea to accept three consecutive life sentences without parole and 64 to 89 months for the crime of discharging a gun into a building.
Police say that in February 2015, Hicks burst into a condo in Chapel Hill owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat and fatally shot Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.
At the time of the shootings, Chapel Hill police said Hicks claimed he was provoked by competition over parking spaces at the condo complex. Relatives of the victims said their family members were targeted because they were Muslim, and they asked federal authorities to pursue hate-crime charges. Authorities later indicated they did not have sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Hicks on those charges.
Moments after Hicks’ entered his plea, Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn played a cellphone video of the slayings as the victims’ parents and siblings watched from the front row. At one point, Barakat’s older sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, fainted. She later appeared at a news conference with other family members and an attorney said she was OK.
Women wept openly and a young man hurled an expletive at Hicks after watching the video, shown on a large pull-down screen and on two flat-screen televisions that were used to give people in the courtroom a better view. The prosecutor also showed a video of Hicks’ confession and a series of still photos portraying happy moments in the victims’ lives.
Montgomery-Blinn said Deah Barakat had turned on his phone’s video to capture an exchange with Hicks, who she said was often seething during his previous encounters with the victims.
The video shows Hicks complaining that Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters are using three parking spaces. When Barakat responds that they’re not taking any more spaces than condo rules allow, Hicks pulls a gun from his holster and fires several times.
The phone drops to the floor inside the front door, the sounds of women screaming can be heard, and then several more shots are heard.
“In 36 seconds, Mr. Hicks executed three people,” Montgomery-Blinn said.
Barakat was shot several times as he stood in his doorway, autopsy results showed. His wife and her sister were shot in the head at close range inside the condo.
Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Yusor Abu-Salha had been married for less than two months, and she had just been accepted to the dental school. Razan had just made the dean’s list in her first semester at North Carolina State University. All three were making plans to visit Turkey during their coming summer break to volunteer in a dental clinic at a camp for Syrian war refugees.
The victims’ families and Muslim advocacy groups had asked federal authorities to pursue hate-crimes charges against Hicks. Joe Cheshire, a prominent defense attorney who has been working with the victims’ families and guiding them through the legal process over the past four years, said at a news conference after the plea hearing that authorities could not discount Hicks’ initial explanation that the violence was provoked by a parking space dispute. He said they could not satisfy themselves that his actions met all the required conditions of bringing a successful hate crime prosecution.
Cheshire said the families were not happy with the decision.
“It hurt a lot of feelings and it added to the false narrative,” he said. “Our government failed this family and our multicultural democracy.”
During the hearing, Hicks listened attentively as Montgomery-Blinn described him as a man who was watching the American Dream slip away while the victims were pursuing it. She said Hicks’ third marriage was disintegrating and he’d recently quit his job in anger after workers described him as constantly playing computer sniper games.
“The defendant was an angry and bitter man,” Montgomery-Blinn said.


President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

Updated 21 September 2019

President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

  • Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political
  • It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump urged the new leader of Ukraine this summer to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a person familiar with the matter said.

Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political rival, now at the heart of an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump.

It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, which has refused to turn over the formal complaint by a national security official or even describe its contents.

Trump defended himself Friday against the intelligence official’s complaint, angrily declaring it came from a “partisan whistleblower,” though he also said he didn’t know who had made it. The complaint was based on a series of events, one of which was a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to a two people familiar with the matter. The people were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.

Trump, in that call, urged Zelenskiy to probe the activities of potential Democratic rival Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company, according to one of the people, who was briefed on the call. Trump did not raise the issue of US aid to Ukraine, indicating there was not an explicit quid pro quo, according to the person.

Biden reacted strongly late Friday, saying that if the reports are true, “then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.” He said Trump should release the transcript of his July phone conversation with Zelenskiy “so that the American people can judge for themselves.”

The government’s intelligence inspector general has described the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent.” But Trump dismissed it all Friday, insisting “it’s nothing.” He scolded reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.”

“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.” Trump, who took questions in the Oval Office alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

The president responded, “I really don’t know,” but he continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.”

Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelenskiy, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.” But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine. There has yet to be any evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or his son regarding Ukraine.

Trump and Zelenskiy are to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations next week. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump pressed Zelenskiy about Biden. The standoff with Congress raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president.

Democrats say the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the whistleblower’s complaint, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California has said he will go to court in an effort to get it if necessary. The intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership.

House Democrats also are fighting the administration for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. In the whistleblower case, lawmakers are looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s reelection effort by investigating the activities of Biden’s son.

During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. He initially said, “No, actually I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.” Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions.

“I did what I did on my own,” he said. “I told him about it afterward. Still later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.” Democrats have contended that Trump, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, may have asked for foreign assistance in his upcoming reelection bid.

Trump further stoked those concerns earlier this year in an interview when he suggested he would be open to receiving foreign help.The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

Schiff, a California Democrat, said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was disturbing and raised concerns that it would have a chilling effect on other potential exposers of wrongdoing. He also said it was “deeply disturbing” that the White House appeared to know more about the complaint than its intended recipient — Congress.

The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.” Among the materials Democrats have sought is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. The call took place one day after Mueller’s faltering testimony to Congress effectively ended the threat his probe posed to the White House. A readout of the call released from the Ukrainian government said Trump believed Kyiv could complete corruptions investigations that have hampered relations between the two nations but did not get into specifics.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who in May called for a probe of Giuliani’s effort in Ukraine, said in an interview on Friday it’s “outrageous” the president has been sending his political operative to talk to Ukraine’s new president. Murphy tweeted that during his own visit it was clear to him that Ukraine officials were “worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani’s demands.”

The senator tweeted that he told Zelenskiy during their August visit it was “best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump faces “serious repercussions” if reports about the complaint are accurate. She said it raises “grave, urgent concerns for our national security.”

Letters to Congress from the inspector general make clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”