The North Carolina man charged with killing three much-admired Muslim university students pleaded guilty Wednesday, four years after the slayings.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, entered the plea to three counts of first-degree murder in a Durham courtroom packed with dozens of the victims' family and friends. It came two months after the new district attorney dropped plans to seek the death penalty in hopes of concluding a case that she said had languished too long.

"I've wanted to plead guilty since day one," Hicks told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. The judge said Hicks had agreed as part of his plea bargain to accept three consecutive life sentences without parole.

Police say that in February 2015, Hicks burst into a condo in Chapel Hill owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat and fatally shot Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.

Read more: Fox News