Pit Driver Accepts Attorney, Expected to Plead Not Guilty

An alumnus who drove through the heart of Carolina’s campus with a rented SUV in March, hitting nine people, is likely to plead not guilty, his court-appointed defender said after a Sept. 19 hearing.

Since his first appearance in Orange County Superior Court on June 21, Mohamad Taheri-Azar ’05 has decided to withdraw his request to defend himself, said his court-appointed attorney James Williams.

Officials have scheduled an arraignment hearing for Dec. 12.

“At that time I anticipate, assuming that he is confident and that he is mentally stable, that we will make a plea of not guilty,” Williams said after the hearing.

Taheri-Azar, who has said he acted to avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world, faces 18 felony charges – including nine counts of attempted first-degree murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

None of the nine pedestrians struck in the incident was injured seriously.

Questions arose during the June pretrial hearing concerning Taheri-Azar’s mental stability. Since then, Taheri-Azar has been given psychological treatment at Central Prison in Raleigh, where he has been held since March in lieu of a $5.5 million bail.

When Orange County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ’75 asked about his psychological treatment, Taheri-Azar said his most recent visit with a psychologist was “within the past week.” Though his psychological evaluation is ongoing, Williams said that Taheri-Azar’s mental condition is stable and that he is ready to prepare for a trial.

“At this point, we are not raising questions of competency,” Williams told Fox. “I feel at this point we are willing to proceed.”

During his stay in prison, Taheri-Azar has corresponded with members of the media, including The Daily Tar Heel, and the UNC Department of Public Safety.

“He has, at times, sent things to law enforcement and to others,” said Jim Woodall, Orange County district attorney. “Trying to get a handle on that has been difficult.”

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