Will There Be Hate Crimes Charges In The Chapel Hill Shootings Case?

Feb 12, 2016

The murder of three Muslim American students in Chapel Hill in February 2015 became world news as the victims’ families and many onlookers identified the shootings as an act of hatred against their religion.

Durham County prosecutors say a neighbor, Craig Hicks, confessed to killing Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, her husband Deah Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19. They have charged him with three counts of first-degree murder and discharging a firearm into a dwelling. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S Department of Justice conducted their own inquiries. Hicks, 47, has not been charged with a hate crime.

In the above interview, Elon University Law Professor Mike Rich, who studies criminal law and police investigations, says prosecutors have likely considered circumstantial evidence suggestive of a hate crime. But he says little information publicly available that directly proves Hicks was motivated by religious bias.

"As a general matter, prosecutors don’t want to pursue cases if they don’t think they can get the result they want in trial," Rich says. "It’s very possible the U.S. Department of Justice is waiting to see what happens with the state charges. If you have a defendant who is sentenced to life in prison without parole or to death, it may not seem like it’s worth the cost to go ahead and push forward with charges that would serve a political service but wouldn’t change the outcome for the defendant."