Palestine Chapel Hill
Palestinians gathered Feb. 14, 2015, in Gaza City to remember the Muslim Chapel Hill shooting victims who were gunned down in North Carolina. Reuters/Suhaib Salem

The man who was charged with the February murders of three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is scheduled to be in court Monday for a hearing on whether he will face the death penalty. Craig Stephen Hicks, who surrendered to police Feb. 10 less than an hour after he shot and killed Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, was charged with first degree murder.

Prosecutors are expected to present their case before Chatham County Court to show that Hicks, 43, deserves the death penalty for his actions, which were allegedly driven by anti-Muslim views. Hicks described himself to authorities as an "anti-theist," something that was underscored by posts to his Facebook page that show discriminatory comments regarding religion. The social media account, which has since been deactivated, featured comments such as “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism”; and a photo of a gun on a scale with the caption, “Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader.”

Investigators in the case believe that Hicks carried out the deadly deed in part because of a parking-related argument with his neighbor, Barakat, the News and Observer reported. Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha was married to Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was the sister of Yusor.
Hicks' wife of seven years, Karen, initially defended her husband before ultimately filing for divorce from him days later. She told authorities that Hicks “champions the rights of others” and was a “champion of Second Amendment rights” who “believed everyone is equal” and said the shooting has “nothing to do with religion.”
Hicks' former wife, Cynthia Hurley, noted that his favorite film was "Falling Down," a fictional account that chronicled a day in the life of of a divorced, unemployed man who carried out an arbitrary shooting rampage. "That always freaked me out. He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all," she told the AP back in February.