The Durham County district attorney will seek the death penalty for Craig S. Hicks, the alleged killer of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, according to court filings obtained by the New York Times. Police are searching Hicks’ computer files and phones for evidence of his motivation in the shooting. Prosecutors need not prove that Hicks shot the students on account of their religion—which would make the killing a hate crime—in order to secure a capital conviction. But if the district attorney can prove that Hicks’ crime was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, the jury might be more likely to send Hicks to death row.
A recent New York Times piece also illustrated Hicks’ profound hatred for all religions, giving credence to the suspicion that his alleged crime was motivated by hate. From that report:
By mid-January, friends were becoming convinced that Mr. Hicks was obsessing over the couple, particularly Ms. Abu-Salha. They suspected it had to do with the way she dressed. “If you look at Deah, he looks like your average white guy,” said Nida Allam, a close friend. “But Yusor wears the head scarf. And so does Razan.” ...
There is no question Mr. Hicks had a problem with religion. His Facebook page was full of quotations and memes denigrating Christianity. On Jan. 27, he shared a graphic that may have made reference to Islam: “People say there is nothing that can solve the Middle East problem … I say there is something. Atheism.”
Before prosecutors move forward with their case against Hicks, they will need to demonstrate to a judge that they have sufficient evidence to pursue capital punishment. That hearing will likely occur in April.