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

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.


Two astronauts aboard SpaceX rocket as historic flight nears launch

Updated 26 sec ago

Two astronauts aboard SpaceX rocket as historic flight nears launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Despite more storms in the forecast, two NASA astronauts climbed into their capsule Saturday for a second attempt at a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
With the flight already delayed three days by bad weather, forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at 50-50 for the 3:22 p.m. liftoff of the 270-foot Falcon 9 in what would be the first launch of astronauts into orbit by a private company.
Their destination: the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.
It would also be NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from US soil in nearly a decade.
The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the US over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would lift American spirits.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken pulled on their angular, white-and-black spacesuits with help from technicians wearing masks, gloves and black hoods that made them look like ninjas.
Before setting out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV — another Musk product — Behnken pantomimed a hug of his 6-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.
SpaceX and NASA monitored the weather not just at Kennedy Space Center, where rain, thick clouds and the chance of lightning threatened another postponement, but all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Waves and wind need to be within certain limits in case the astronauts have to make an emergency splashdown on the way to orbit.
Wednesday’s countdown of the rocket and its bullet-shaped Dragon capsule was halted at just under 17 minutes because of the threat of lightning.
Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t nervous,” Bridenstine said before the launch attempt. “We want to do everything we can to minimize the risk, minimize the uncertainty, so that Bob and Doug will be safe.”
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence planned to return for the second launch attempt.
Because of the coronavirus, NASA severely limited the number of employees, visitors and journalists allowed deep inside Kennedy Space Center, and the crowd was relatively small, at a few thousand. At the center’s tourist complex, though, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up in a few hours.
The space agency urged people to stay safe and watch from home, and by NASA’s count, at least 1.14 million viewers followed the launch preparation online. But spectators also began lining the Cape Canaveral area’s beaches and roads. Signs along the main beach drag read, “Godspeed.”
Among the spectators was Neil Wight, a machinist from Buffalo, New York, who staked out a view of the launch pad from a park in Titusville.
“It’s pretty historically significant in my book and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”
NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to taxi astronauts to and from the space station, under contracts totaling $7 billion. Both companies launched their crew capsules last year with test dummies. SpaceX’s Dragon aced all of its objectives, while Boeing’s Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and was almost destroyed because of software errors.
As a result, the first Starliner flight carrying astronauts isn’t expected until next year.