Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer/AP

Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the slayings

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April 06, 2015 10:40 AM

A judge has ruled that Stephen Hicks, the man accused of shooting three Muslim students, can face the death penalty.

Hicks, 46, turned himself in to police shortly after the incident occurred. The three students – Deah Barakat, 23; Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 23; and Yusor’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 21 – were killed at their home near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus in February.

Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the slayings, which were allegedly prompted by a parking dispute, though many believe they were hate crimes motivated by the students’ religion.

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said last month that he planned to seek the death penalty if Hicks is convicted, according to the Associated Press. On Monday, prosecutors presented their case to Judge Orlando Hudson, who decided that Hicks is “death penalty qualified.”

Federal investigators are looking into whether there is evidence to support hate-crime charges as well, the News & Observer reports.

Search warrants from the case show that Hicks kept detailed notes on the parking activity at the complex. However, photos taken the day after the shooting showed that none of the family’s cars were parked in Hicks’s spot.

Barakat was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry when he died. He had just wed Yusor, who was studying biology at North Carolina State University, in December. Razan, also a student at NCSU, was studying architecture and environmental design.

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