Man pleads guilty to rape, murder of Muslim teen beaten to death with baseball bat

FAIRFAX, Va. -- In a plea deal that allows him to avoid a possible death penalty, a northern Virginia man has admitted he raped and killed a 17-year-old Muslim girl last year.

Darwin Martinez-Torres, 25, of Sterling, entered the guilty plea Wednesday in Fairfax County in the June 2017 murder of Nabra Hassanen, of Reston.

She had been out with a group of friends eating a pre-dawn meal at a fast-food restaurant ahead of Ramadan services. Martinez-Torres was driving by and got into an altercation with the group, which appeared to be the result of a road rage incident. Police said the dispute occurred while the teens were walking back to the mosque and Hassanen was assaulted.

Police said Martinez-Torres fatally beat her with a bat. Hassanen died of blunt-force trauma to the head and neck, according to the medical examiner's office.

RELATED: Slain Muslim teen's memorial torched on day of her funeral

Wednesday's plea deal imposes a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Hassanen's death attracted widespread attention amid concerns that her slaying was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

Hassanen's father told CNN earlier this week that he thinks his daughter was killed because she was wearing an abaya, a traditional black cloak.

"This is a hate crime," Mahmoud Hassanen said. "It's racism. Getting killed because she's Muslim."

Police have said repeatedly they have no evidence of a hate crime.

"It could have happened to me"

Hundreds of people attended her funeral. Some people said were torn on whether they believed the attack was religiously motivated, or if Hassanen was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many said they were only starting to wrap their heads around what had happened -- but for all of them, it felt personal.

"Honestly, I'm not sure if it's a hate crime or not, but I feel like it doesn't matter," said Mamata Abdou, 22, who drove to the service from Gaithersburg, Maryland, more than an hour's drive away. "A horrible thing happened to her, but regardless of (whether or not) it was a hate crime, it was horrible -- maybe someone else could have been in that situation if they were outside, I don't know."

Abdou said the news of Hassanen's death shocked her. "It's definitely terrifying because I'm young and I'm Muslim," she said. "It could have easily happened to me."

The same day of Hassanen's funeral, a memorial held for her in Washington, D.C., was torched. Firefighters responded to a fire at the famous Dupont Circle in the nation's capital, where the impromptu memorial included flowers and her drawings of her face.

A candlelight vigil against hate was held at Federal Plaza in Chicago's Loop the day after her funeral. People from several organizations stood in solidarity with Hassanen's family.

ABC News and CNN contributed to this report.
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