A man has pleaded guilty to killing a Muslim teenager as she and her friends walked to a mosque in northern Virginia, officials said.
Darwin Martinez Torres, 25, accepted a plea deal Wednesday in a Fairfax County courtroom in a case that shook Virginia’s Muslim community last year.
Martinez Torres, of Sterling, Virginia, had been indicted of eight counts, including abduction, rape, sexual assault and capital murder in the death of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen. The plea deal allows him to avoid the possibility of a death sentence.
When Martinez Torres is formally sentenced in March, officials said, he will get life in prison without parole.
Martinez Torres, a native of El Salvador who immigration officials said is in the country illegally, was in his car when he first saw Nabra and her friends walking and riding bikes in the street and on the sidewalk.
The teens had left the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center) after midnight prayers and went to a McDonald’s before the next fast began. The mosque holds prayers throughout the night during the observance of Ramadan.
Martinez Torres became so enraged after arguing with one teen that he drove up on a curb, police said. He later found the group in a nearby parking lot, chased them on foot with a baseball bat and allegedly beat Nabra.
Martinez Torres put the injured teen in his car, police said, and later raped and sexually assaulted her with an unspecified object before killing her “with premeditation.”
Nabra’s death was considered the result of road rage despite claims from her family and her religious community that she was targeted because of her race and her faith. She was wearing an abaya, a traditional black cloak, when the incident took place, her father, Mahmoud Hassanen, has said.
On Wednesday, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh said investigators have not yet “uncovered evidence” that indicates a hate crime.
“Some people just do wicked and evil things sometimes, and I don’t know that we’ll ever know why in this life,” Morrogh said about Martinez Torres’ motive.
Morrogh told reporters that Nabra’s death “stood out just as a very horrific and brutal crime” but he ultimately decided on the plea deal because Nabra’s parents wanted some closure.
The Council on American Islamic Relations, which represented Nabra’s family in the criminal case, said it welcomed the guilty plea.
“We welcome this guilty plea and hope it brings Nabra’s family some measure of closure and comfort. This tragic case has impacted the local community and people of all faiths nationwide, particularly parents and youth. We hope Nabra’s murderer will now receive the maximum sentence possible,” said Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director.
As part of the agreement, Martinez Torres will make himself available to the victim’s family to answer questions. His attorney, Joseph Flood, said he wants to provide the family with any information that could help them in their healing process.
“It’s a testament to his sincerity of remorse,” Flood said.
Fighting back tears and with the help of a translator, Nabra’s father spoke with reporters after the plea hearing on Wednesday.
“I consider her to be a martyr in the eyes of God,” he said.