Craig Stephen Hicks
Craig Stephen Hicks allegedly turned himself to police after killing three Muslim students.Chapel Hill police department/handout

The gunman charged with the murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina over a row about parking, repeatedly watched a movie about a man on a murderous shooting rampage.

Craig Hicks's ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, who divorced him 17 years ago, said Hicks was obsessed with the 1993 film "Falling Down" starring Michael Douglas.

She described how he would laugh while watching the film in which a recently divorced lawyer goes over the edge after losing his job and embarks on a shooting rampage across Los Angeles.

Ms Hurley told The Associated Press: "That always freaked me out. He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all."

Neighbours descriptions of Hicks bear alarming similarities to the movie character who was described as "angry and confrontational."

"Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry," said local resident Samantha Maness. "He was very angry, anytime I saw him."

Hicks was studying to be a paralegal, at Durham Technical Community College. Teachers described him as an "exemplary student" who did not mingle much with other students, but had appeared normal during lessons on the day of the shooting.

Hicks turned himself into police after shooting Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19 in an alleged parking row.

All three victims shot in the head at close range.

While families of the victims have contended that the killings were a hate crime, Hicks's wife Karen, said in a press conference that the shooting had "nothing to do with religion or the victims' faith" and everything to do with her husband's confrontations in the neighbourhood.

Robert Maitland, a lawyer for Mrs Hicks, who is filing for divorce from her husband, also refuted the notion that Hicks was anti-Muslim, suggesting that the shooting was more likely to be linked to mental issues.

"Obviously it's not within the range of normal behaviour for someone to shoot three people over parking issues," Mr Maitland said.

Police have not found any inflammatory or anti-Muslim material on his computer.

The funerals for the victims were due to take place on Thursday (12 February). Vigils were held on Wednesday at Chapel Hill.

Hicks has been charged with three counts of first degree murder is due in court on March 4.