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Fairfax, Va. – A northern Virginia man pleaded guilty Wednesday to raping and killing a Muslim teenager last year in a case that drew national attention for its brutality on a young victim who had been walking with friends to early-morning religious services.

The plea deal allows Darwin Martinez-Torres, 25, of Sterling to avoid a potential death penalty for the June 2017 murder of 17-year-old 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.

Wednesday’s plea deal will mean Martinez-Torres gets life without parole when he is formally sentenced in March.

Nabra’s death attracted widespread attention, and thousands of mourners attended her funeral. There were concerns that her slaying was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, but police have said repeatedly they have no evidence of a hate crime.

Instead, police called it an incident of road rage.

In court Wednesday, prosecutor Casey Lingan said the attack began when Martinez-Torres drove by and honked his horn at one of Nabra’s friends who had been riding his bicycle in the road as they walked back to their mosque. The friend yelled back at Martinez-Torres, who started chasing the group, first in his car and then on foot.

Lingan said Nabra, who was wearing sandals, couldn’t run as fast the others, and Martinez-Torres caught up with her, wielding a baseball bat. Some friends started to go back to help Nabra, but Lingan said Martinez-Torres scared them off with his bat.

Martinez-Torres, a native of El Salvador who federal immigration authorities have said is in the country illegally, was caught shortly after the attack. He initially denied attacking Nabra but quickly confessed under questioning from detectives. He told them that he “got out of control” and that after he first struck Nabra with the bat he “just kept thinking ugly things.” He later raped her.

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