(RNS) — A Virginia man has been sentenced to eight life sentences in prison without parole for the rape and murder of Muslim teen Nabra Hassanen during Ramadan two years ago.
On Thursday (March 28), 25-year-old Darwin Martinez-Torres was sentenced with four counts of capital murder and four collateral crimes.
Martinez-Torres took a plea deal last year that required a life sentence but spared him the death penalty in a case that captured international media attention.
On June 18, 2017, 17-year-old Hassanen and her friends were walking back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque, in Sterling, Va., after a pre-dawn meal at a local McDonald’s, when Martinez-Torres drove by, according to media reports.
Torres honked at one of the teens, who was driving a bike, then chased the group in his car into a parking lot. He bludgeoned Hassanen with the baseball bat and pulled her into his car. While she lay unconscious, he raped her and dumped her body in a nearby pond, he later confessed to police.
The body of Hassanen, a sophomore at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., was found dead later that morning.
Since the attack, Muslim civil rights groups have been concerned the crime was driven by anti-Muslim sentiment. But law enforcement called it a “road rage incident” and said they found no evidence that the act was a hate crime.
The plea bargain also requires Martinez-Torres to answer any questions from the victim’s family during the next year, which Hassanen’s legal team said they hope would help settle questions about whether the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim hate.
Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Ray Morrogh noted after the hearing that “the question of possible Islamophobia” remains up in the air. He fears the answers will not be what the Hassanens or their local faith community are looking for.
“There is simply evil in the world,” he said outside the Virginia courthouse Thursday morning. “The sorrow from this case will ripple through this community for a hundred years … (the Muslim community here is) going to stand together and get through this somehow.”
The Hassanen family’s attorney said they would not draw any conclusions about whether it was motivated by anti-Muslim hate until after they got answers from Martinez-Torres.
“We need to know exactly why this happened, and part of the way we find out exactly why this happened is asking the killer himself why he did it,” said Gadeir Abbas, attorney for Hassanen’s family and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which assisted the Commonwealth in the case.
“This despicable crime deserved a punishment that reflected a severity, and justice was done today, and inshaAllah (God willing) the family and community will be able to heal after this,” he said during a press conference after the hearing.
Hassanen was mourned by thousands at her memorial service and thousands more at vigils held around the country.
“I don’t want something like that to happen to any family,” the victim’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen, said after the hearing. “Every day, every minute, I never forget her. She used to be very nice and she loved everybody. I miss her.”