Driver in Pit Attack Agrees to Representation

With his ankles in shackles, Mohammed Taheri-Azar ’05 shuffled from a squad car into a back door of the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough on Wednesday.

In those few seconds, two television reporters asked the questions of the day: “Mohammed, why are you going to represent yourself? Mohammed, what have you said to your family?”

Taheri-Azar, facing nine counts each of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon for his vehicular attack on pedestrians around the Pit on March 3, did not answer until he faced Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ’75.

The purpose of that day’s hearing was to resolve the defendant’s request to dismiss public defender James Williams and to represent himself in his felony trial. In the end, Taheri-Azar agreed to retain Williams but refused meetings with doctors appointed to evaluate his mental condition. Fox set another hearing for Sept. 19 to review the situation.

Fox read from a letter Taheri-Azar submitted to the court on May 24 that indicated he did not want to have legal representation. During questioning, the defendant said he had no legal training and that he did not plan to cross-examine any witnesses. When asked if he understood the maximum sentence if convicted, he replied, “I’m aware that the maximum sentence is approximately 6,000 months.”

Fox offered to consider putting a public defender on “stand-by” to answer Taheri-Azar’s questions during the trial but not to lead his defense. In exchange, Fox asked the defendant to agree to submit to psychological evaluations. The judge explained that a higher court could throw out the Superior Court decision if the record does not show that experts deemed Taheri-Azar capable of defending himself.

Taheri-Azar said he already had met with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and had stopped seeing them. Fox agreed with the defendant’s proposal that he allow the public defender to speak on his behalf.

Fox asked Taheri-Azar if he wished to address his two sisters who were present in the courtroom. He said he did not and that he had not allowed them to visit him in prison.

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