A man accused of killing 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen in Sterling, Virginia in June may face the death penalty after a grand jury charged him with capital murder and rape on Monday.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court indicted Darwin Martinez-Torres, 22, on eight charges, including four counts of capital murder in the killing of the Muslim teen, who was walking back to the local mosque with a group of friends when she was abducted.
The four counts of capital murder illustrated in “graphic detail the ways in which prosecutors believe the slaying qualifies for the death penalty,” the Associated Press reported.
Monday’s indictment was the first time prosecutors officially brought charges of a sexual crime against Martinez-Torres. Under Virginia law, prosecutors can pursue the death penalty for certain charges, including murder during the commission of rape and object sexual penetration, which are among the four counts.
Police reported that Hassanen and a group of roughly a dozen other teens had just eaten a pre-dawn meal in observance of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan on June 18. They were returning to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society at about 3:40 a.m. when Martinez-Torres drove by the group. He reportedly got into an altercation with one of the teens and drove his car over a curb to chase them.
Fairfax County police said Martinez-Torres then got out of his car and chased the teens with a baseball bat. He reportedly caught up with Hassanen and hit her with the bat, then loaded her into his car.
A search warrant affidavit said Martinez-Torres admitted to killing the teen and led police to where he had dumped her body in a pond close to his Sterling apartment complex, according to AP.
A preliminary hearing on Friday was delayed when Mahmoud Hassanen, the teen’s father, yelled, “You killed my daughter!” and charged at Martinez-Torres, the Washington Post reported. Hassanen’s mother, Sawsan Gazzar, threw a shoe at the suspect.
The June attack shook the U.S. Muslim community at a time when many teens around the country could have been engaged in a similar pre-dawn ritual before the daily Ramadan fast. The incident left many Muslims feeling particularly vulnerable as police officials quickly dismissed the possibility of a hate crime, saying they believed the killer’s motive was “road rage.”
An online petition urging that the slaying be investigated as a hate crime has garnered over 55,000 signatures.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, is representing Hassanen’s family.
The family “is focused on ensuring that there is justice for Nabra and that the murderer is held accountable for his crimes,” CAIR lawyer Gadeir Abbas told AP. “This tragedy has affected the family, but also the Muslim community across the country, coming as it did during Ramadan when the kids were gathering at the mosque to socialize and for prayer.”
A Fairfax County judge is expected to set a date for Martinez-Torres’ trial on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.