DURHAM, N.C. – A court filing suggests the deaths of three Muslim university students in 2015 were captured on cellphone video, WRAL-TV reported Monday.
The filing by prosecutors concerns a report by Tufts University psychology professor Samuel Sommers that contends the video casts doubt on claims by accused killer Craig Hicks that the students insulted him on the day of the shootings. Prosecutors want a judge to allow Sommers' report as evidence.
"The cell phone video of the shootings shows no evidence of disrespect — indeed, there was insufficient time for much interaction before Hicks began shooting," wrote Sommers, a psychologist who studies unconscious discrimination and stereotyping. He suggested their ethnic and religious backgrounds could have played a role in Hicks' actions.
Hicks told police he fired in a dispute over parking spots at the Chapel Hill condominium complex he shared with University of North Carolina dental student Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.
But Sommers wrote that, "Hicks' efforts to explain wounds on his hand as possibly the result of a physical altercation initiated by Barakat are not supported in any way by the cell phone video of the shootings."
Sommers' affidavit doesn't specify whether Hicks videotaped the killings.
Hicks is charged with murder and is expected to enter a plea on Wednesday. Durham County's new district attorney said in April she was scrapping plans to seek the death penalty in order to speed up a trial.
Hicks was known in the condo community for disputing parking spaces, but he displayed a gun only when confronting minorities, Sommers wrote. Hicks also assumed Barakat and the Abu-Salah sisters were renting the condo and didn't own it, giving them less right to park there, Sommers said.
"(W)hile it is impossible to offer definitive conclusions regarding whether and the degree to which Craig Hicks was influenced by intergroup bias," Sommers concluded, there is a reasonable likelihood that the three "were not simply random victims of the violent outburst of a neighbor frustrated over parking, but rather that their ethnic and religious backgrounds played a role in how Hicks perceived them, interacted with them and ultimately shot and killed them."
Relatives of the victims said they believe the shootings were a hate crime. The slain women's father, psychiatrist Mohammad Abu-Salha, testified to a congressional hearing on hate crimes in April that Hicks had expressed hateful comments that his daughters were wearing head scarves in observance of their faith
"Three beautiful young Americans were brutally murdered and there is no question in our minds that this tragedy was born of bigotry and hate," Dr. Abu-Salha testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. "And because the climate of bigotry is getting worse, I am gravely worried that more tragedies will happen if action is not taken at all levels of government."
Even as he spoke about the details he read in the autopsy reports of his slain daughters and son-in-law, the live chat function on YouTube was disabled because it was overrun by anti-Semitic and white nationalist comments.