Death penalty sought against man accused of killing parents, kidnapping niece

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The district attorney announced Thursday morning he will be seeking the death penalty for a couple accused of kidnapping an 11-year-old Charlotte girl and killing her grandparents.

Prosecutors said there are "aggravating circumstances" that make it a capital case.

Curtis Atkinson Jr. and Nikkia Cooper face murder, kidnapping and drug charges.

[PAST COVERAGE: Sources: Kidnapped girl may have witnessed grandparents' murders]

Authorities said the couple killed Atkinson’s parents, Curtis Atkins Sr. and Ruby Atkinson, in April inside their home on Glencannon Drive in east Charlotte, then kidnapped his niece, Arieyana Forney.

There was an intense, nationwide search until all three were found in Washington, D.C days later after a chase and crash, according to authorities. Arieyana pleaded with police to help her and she was rescued.

Defense attorney Rick Beam told Channel 9 that in death penalty cases, the defense team has to overcome a mountain of evidence.

"They usually don't declare cases capital unless they are fairly egregious on the facts," Beam said.

Beam said the defense has to be ready for two phases because if a defendant is found guilty, then there is a hearing to decide if the defendant gets the death penalty.

He said it usually takes six months to a year to prepare for death penalty cases.

Police and prosecutors have not released a motive behind the suspected killings and kidnapping.

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