DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - An attorney who has worked with the families of three Muslim students gunned down in February 2015 says federal authorities decided they did not have a strong enough case to pursue hate-crime charges against their killer.
Joe Cheshire is a defense attorney in North Carolina who has been working with the victims' families and guiding them through the legal process over the past four years.
He said at a news conference Wednesday that federal authorities could not satisfy themselves that 50-year-old Craig Hicks' actions met all the required conditions of bringing a successful hate crime prosecution. He says they couldn't discount Hicks' initial explanation that the violence was provoked by a dispute over parking spaces.
Hicks pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of 23-year-old Deah Barakat; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu-Salha's 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha. He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison without parole.
Cheshire says federal authorities' decision not to pursue hate-crimes charges "hurt a lot of feelings and it added to the false narrative."
He says the federal government "failed this family and our multicultural democracy."
Moments after a man pleaded guilty to fatally shooting three Muslim students, a prosecutor played a cellphone video of the slayings.
Women wept openly and a young man hurled an expletive at 50-year-old Craig Hicks after watching the video in a courtroom on Wednesday. The victims' parents and siblings sat in the front row as the prosecutor played the video on a screen.
Prosecutor Kendra Montgomery-Blinn said one of the victims had turned the phone's video on to capture an exchange with Hicks.
The video shows Hicks protesting that Deah Barakat; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha; and her sister Razan Abu-Salha 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.
After 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.
Montgomery-Blinn remarked that "In 36 seconds, Mr. Hicks executed three people."
The North Carolina man charged with killing three much-admired Muslim university students has pleaded guilty four years after the slayings.
Craig Hicks pleaded guilty to three counts of murder on Wednesday in a Durham courtroom filled with dozens of the victims' family and friends.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of shooting into an occupied dwelling.
Police said Hicks claimed the confrontation was sparked by competition for parking spaces at the condominium complex where they all lived.
The families of 23-year-old University of North Carolina dental student Deah Barakat; his 21-year-old wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha said they believe Hicks acted with anti-Muslim hatred. They also said Hicks objected to the head scarves the women wore in observance of their faith.
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