Prosecutors seek death penalty over Muslim students murder: Reports

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Craig Hicks (above), a self-proclaimed atheist who shot dead three Muslim students in North Carolina last month, according to local media. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Craig Hicks (above), a self-proclaimed atheist who shot dead three Muslim students in North Carolina last month, according to local media. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Craig Hicks, a self-proclaimed atheist who shot dead three Muslim students in North Carolina last month, according to local media.

Hicks is accused of killing neighbour Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his new wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in an apartment in Chapel Hill where the couple lived.

The Durham District Attorney's office filed an intention to seek the death penalty for Hicks over the killings, Durham's Herald-Sun newspaper reported on Monday.

Hicks, 46, who espoused anti-religion views in his Facebook page, turned himself in after the killings. Chapel Hill Police told AFP on Tuesday he was cooperating with investigators.

Police say the murders may have been triggered by a long-running parking dispute, although they were not ruling out the possibility of a hate crime.

On Monday, they released search warrants that showed 12 firearms were seized from Hicks' apartment, including several rifles, others that were fully loaded, along with ammo and gun cases.

Police documents also said Hicks kept detailed pictures and notes about parking in the apartment complex where he killed the three.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an inquiry into the killings to determine whether Hicks was motivated by anti-religious views, and last month a grand jury indicted Hicks on three charges of first-degree murder.

Hicks faces life in prison without parole or the death penalty for the three charges of first-degree murder, per North Carolina law.

His Facebook page shows a photo of a gun on a scale he said was loaded, and featured anti-religion diatribes slamming all religions, including Christianity and Islam.

The murders sparked outrage in Chapel Hill, and friends and families said the victims were targeted because of their religion.

US President Barack Obama decried the killings as "brutal and outrageous".

Thousands of people gathered at the funeral for the slain students after the murders, which rattled he tight-knit university town.