Three accused Somali pirates pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges they killed four Americans on a hijacked yacht off the coast of Africa in February.
The three entered not guilty pleas Wednesday in federal court in Norfolk on murder and other charges.
Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar entered their pleas to murder and other charges in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
The defendants are among 14 men who were charged with piracy, kidnapping and weapons violations in the hijacking of the yacht Quest in February. The other men have already entered guilty pleas and agreed to cooperate with authorities.
The owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death several days after being taken hostage several hundred miles south of Oman.
They were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in recent years, despite an international flotilla of warships that patrol the area.
U.S. Magistrate Judge F. Bradford Stillman warned the three defendants of the severity of the charges they faced.
"If you are convicted, you could be sentenced to the penitentiary for life, or you could be sentenced to death and executed," Stillman told the defendants, who wore faded black-and-gray prison uniforms.
Each defendant, when asked through an interpreter, formally denied the 26 counts, 22 of which are death penalty-eligible. Each also requested a jury trial.
"This is not something that I have done, so this is not something I will plead guilty to," Ahmed Muse Salad, 43, said through an interpreter.
After the arraignment, the defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys were scheduled to appear before a different judge to consider the government's request to delay a trial date so prosecutors can determine whether they will seek the death penalty.