Former Arizona Grad Student Convicted of First-Degree Murder in 2022 Shooting of Professor

Former Arizona Grad Student Convicted of First-Degree Murder in 2022 Shooting of Professor
Former University of Arizona graduate student Murad Dervish stands in Pima County Superior Court, in Tucson, Ariz., on May 21, 2024. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

A former University of Arizona graduate student was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a hydrology professor on campus, months after he was expelled.

A Pima County Superior Court jury deliberated for less than three hours before reaching a verdict against Murad Dervish, 48, in the death of Thomas Meixner, who was shot 11 times near his office in October 2022.

Mr. Dervish also was convicted of five other felony counts, including aggravated assault for a bullet that grazed a building manager.

Mr. Dervish, who showed no emotion as the verdicts were read, is set to be sentenced on June 24. He could face life in prison.

Meixner, 52, headed the university’s Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. Mr. Dervish was in the master’s degree program in atmospheric sciences.

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

Defense attorney Leo Masursky told jurors in his closing argument Monday that Mr. Dervish was having a psychotic episode during the shooting and that the crime wasn’t premeditated.

He said jurors should hold Mr. Dervish accountable but urged them to consider a lesser charge of second-degree murder that could have meant confinement in a psychiatric hospital, rather than a prison cell.

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

Mr. Masursky cited numerous mental health issues Mr. Dervish dealt with including psychosis, autism with schizoid features, and clinical depression.

But Pima County prosecutor Mark Hotchkiss said evidence showed Mr. Dervish planned Meixner’s killing and bought a 9 mm handgun a month before using it in the shooting.

“He is not guilty but insane. He’s just guilty,” Mr. Hotchkiss said of Mr. Dervish.

According to a criminal complaint, a flyer with a photograph of Mr. Dervish was circulated to university staff in February 2022 with instructions to call 911 if Mr. Dervish ever entered the John W. Harshbarger Building, where Meixner worked.

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

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

Mr. Dervish fled the scene but was arrested three 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 the ammunition was consistent with the shell casings found at the shooting scene.

By Walter Berry

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