Trial in Pit incident could occur in March

Nine were struck in lunch rampage

Staff WriterAugust 23, 2007 

Taheri-Azar has changed his beliefs, according to his attorney.

— Nine months after his arrest in March 2006, the recent college graduate accused of driving onto UNC-Chapel Hill's campus to hit and try to kill people said he hoped his criminal case would be resolved quickly.

But if things go as discussed in Orange County Superior Court Wednesday, Mohammed Taheri-Azar, now 24, may not go to trial on attempted murder and assault charges until March 31 -- two years after the incident.

Taheri-Azar has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of attempted first-degree murder and nine counts of felonious assault in connection with driving a rented Jeep Cherokee along the Pit, a student gathering place on the UNC-CH campus.

Nine people were struck in the March 3 lunchtime incident, but none required overnight hospitalization. Minutes later, Taheri-Azar called 911 and turned himself in to police.

In statements in court and to the media, Taheri-Azar has said he wanted to kill Americans to avenge Muslim deaths.

His attorney, Orange-Chatham Public Defender James Williams, said Wednesday Taheri-Azar no longer holds such extreme beliefs and asked for his client's bail to be lowered to between $500,000 and $750,000 from the current $5.5 million.

Taheri-Azar has been in custody since his arrest, currently at Raleigh's Central Prison for safekeeping.

Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan denied the bail request.

Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said Taheri-Azar, who graduated from UNC-CH about three months before the incident, should stay in custody. He noted that Taheri-Azar had continued to write threatening letters while confined.

Williams said his client is no longer dangerous. In court Wednesday afternoon, Taheri-Azar sat quietly with his attorney, fingers resting on their desk. Once close-shaved, his hair has grown longer, now parted on the side.

"I can say clearly before this court that whatever he was thinking at the time, he was under, I would contend, some mental distress," Williams said.

Williams said his client would stay with his mother and sister in Charlotte and no longer espouses extremist views such as those he said motivated him in 2006.

In May, Taheri-Azar sent a letter to Orange County Superior Court apologizing for the attack and his behavior.

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