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
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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.


Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

Updated 1 min 5 sec ago
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Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

  • Activists are planning more protests, hoping to win attention and support
  • hundreds of thousands marched in a June 16 protest

HONG KONG: China promised that for 50 years after Britain gave up control of its last colony, this shimmering financial enclave would get to keep freedoms absent in the communist-ruled mainland. Twenty-two years on, those are rights many here believe Hong Kong cannot live without.
The hundreds of thousands who marched in a June 16 protest over a now-shelved extradition bill, and those still demonstrating, are signaling alarm that Hong Kong may become just another Chinese city as those protections unravel and Beijing’s influence expands in the territory.
Activists are planning more protests for Wednesday, hoping to win attention and support from world leaders gathering in Osaka, Japan, for the Group of 20 summit later this week.
“This is not about a power struggle,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of a number of groups involved in organizing recent protests over the legislation. “This is about the values that make the world a better place.”
“The whole world, whoever has connections with Hong Kong, would be stakeholders,” she said.
All of those involved — the territory’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the police, lawmakers, the protesters and the rest of Hong Kong — are caught up in tensions stemming from the “one country, two systems” colonial legacy that bequeathed a Western-style civic society under a political system controlled by Beijing.
The protests erupted after Beijing-backed Lam tried to push through legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to face trial in Communist Party-dominated courts in mainland China. Many in Hong Kong viewed the bill as another step toward curbing protections they expect from their legal system.
While they come from all walks of life, the protesters share a determination to preserve those freedoms, said Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.
“This protest has drawn everybody in town together,” he said. “They really value the freedom to speak up and protest.”
Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law and government, said the extradition bill would have deprived local authorities of the right to prevent forcible transfers by China of suspects, including visitors, “for detention, trial and punishment that violate international standards of justice.”
The bill also would have enabled China to require Hong Kong authorities to freeze and confiscate assets of alleged suspects, Cohen wrote in a recent blog post. Efforts to limit the cases subject to extradition would not prevent suspects from being subject to China’s “incommunicado torture chambers, its denial of competent legal defenders and its unfair trials.”
Most Hong Kong residents belong to families that fled poverty and political upheavals in the communist mainland. British rule did not bequeath them democracy, but it laid the foundations for strong civic institutions, schools, health care — as well as a laissez faire trading regime dominated by business leaders deeply invested in keeping Hong Kong as it is.
Normally reluctant to wade into political matters or criticize Beijing, businesses also expressed concern over the extradition bill, with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce noting that the protests reflected “serious apprehensions.” The chamber welcomed the government’s decision to suspend the bill, as did its American and British counterparts.
It’s unclear if the turnout for another big protest planned for the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Chinese control might match the earlier ones.
Lam’s push for the now stalled legislation, ill-timed around the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the tear gas, steel batons and other aggressive tactics used by police, especially in June 12 protests that turned violent, helped draw people young and old into the streets.
Activists want an investigation into the complaints over police violence, along with Lam’s resignation and other demands. But the continued protests reflect a deeper sense of grievance and unease, especially among Hong Kong residents coming of age in an era of declining economic opportunity, said Ken Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings.
“Social mobility is more and more theoretical in Hong Kong, so young people continue to be very dissatisfied. There’s a broader concern about China in Hong Kong. The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow,” Courtis said.
In many respects, Hong Kong faces the same sorts of challenges of other developed economies with aging populations and slowing growth.
The city of 7 million has an economy that is bigger than Vietnam’s and a per capita GDP of more than $46,000. But controls on land use favor property developers, and half the apartments available rent for $2,550 a month or more, while median monthly incomes are about $2,300.
In a city dominated by business leaders and other elites, the only leverage protesters can wield is “the power of numbers,” said Yuen, noting that surveys of those participating in protests in recent weeks generally identify with the city’s “grassroots or lower classes.”
“They see themselves as lower class because of crony capitalism in Hong Kong. It’s very hard for them to get a fine paying job and also to buy an apartment in Hong Kong,” he said.
Brian Chow, one of the protesters sitting in the sweltering heat on a recent day outside the city’s Legislative Council building, said he wasn’t the “type” to get involved in violence.
“I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us,” he said.
After protesters blocked lines in the tax and immigration offices downtown on Monday, the government issued a statement appealing to them to “act peacefully and rationally when expressing their opinions and not to affect those in need of government services.”
In her apologies over the extradition bill fiasco, Lam appealed for “another chance” and said she would focus on improving the economy and resolving the housing crisis.
Chinese officials warned against “outside interference” but made a point of backing Lam’s decision to sideline the proposal. At a time of severe trade friction with the US, Beijing’s higher priority lies in preserving Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub and free port, Courtis said.
“People in Beijing are pragmatic. They see time in terms of many years,” he said. “Step sideways here, if that’s not enough then step backwards. Now you focus on making the economy work and keeping people happy.”