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Arizona grad student accused of killing professor in 2022 had planned the crime, prosecutor says


TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A former University of Arizona graduate student accused of killing a professor on campus two years ago was in the midst of a psychotic episode at the time of the shooting, his attorney said Monday.

But a prosecutor said in his closing argument that the crime was premeditated and that Murad Dervish planned the killing of Thomas Meixner, who was fatally shot near his office and pronounced dead at a Tucson hospital.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Howard Fell told jurors that deliberations will begin Tuesday morning.

Dervish, 48, faces seven felony charges including first-degree murder in the death of Meixner, 52.

“This was not a one-shot deal. He shot him 11 times. He emptied that gun,” Pima County prosecutor Mark Hotchkiss said, adding that evidence showed Dervish bought a 9 mm handgun a month before the October 2022 shooting.

“Does the evidence prove that this was a premeditated murder. The answer is ‘absolutely,’’’ Hotchkiss told jurors.

Defense attorney Leo Masursky said jurors that the killing wasn’t premeditated and Dervish is “guilty except insane to second-degree murder” — which could confine him to a psychiatric hospital instead of a prison cell if convicted.

“Murad Dervish lost his mind on Oct. 5, 2022,” Masursky said in his closing argument. “He had severe mental health issues. He did not know right from wrong.”

But Hotchkiss said Dervish “is not guilty but insane. He’s just guilty.”

Meixner headed the university’s Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and was an expert on desert water issues.

Dervish was in the master’s degree program in atmospheric sciences, which is within the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences.

Authorities said Dervish was banned from the school in January 2022 and later expelled for ongoing issues with professors after he received a bad grade.

According to a criminal complaint, a flyer with a photograph of Dervish had been circulated to university staff in February 2022 with instructions to call 911 if he ever entered the John W. Harshbarger Building, which houses the hydrology department.

The complaint also said Dervish was barred fro school property and he had been the subject of several reports of harassment and threats to staff members working at Harshbarger.

Witnesses testified that Dervish was wearing a surgical mask and baseball cap as a disguise when he showed up outside Meixner’s office and shot the professor.

Dervish fled and was arrested hours later after Arizona state troopers stopped his car on a highway more than 120 miles (190 kilometers) northwest of Tucson.

Authorities said a loaded handgun was found in the vehicle and that the ammunition was consistent with the shell casings found at the shooting scene.

Gavin Baker, a psychologist, evaluated Dervish after the shooting and testified that he diagnosed him with various disorders including schizophrenia and major depression. He also said Dervish was paranoid and delusional.

During his nine-day trial, Dervish asked for different defense attorneys, wanted to be treated as co-counsel and also moved for a mistrial. All were denied by Fell.