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Former Arizona grad student convicted of first-degree murder in 2022 shooting of professor

FILE - Arizona graduate student Murad Dervish sits in Pima County Superior Court, May 8, 2024, in Tuscon, Ariz. Dervish, a former University of Arizona graduate student was convicted Tuesday, May 21, 2024, of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a hydrology professor on campus in 2022, months after his expulsion. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP, File)

A former University of Arizona graduate student was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a hydrology professor on campus in 2022, months after his expulsion.

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

Dervish was also convicted of five other felony counts, including aggravated assault for a bullet that grazed a building manager. 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. Dervish was in the master’s degree program in 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.

Defense attorney Leo Masursky told jurors in his closing argument Monday that Dervish was in the midst of a psychotic episode at the time of the shooting and the crime wasn’t premeditated.

He also said his client was guilty except insane of second-degree murder. That would have confined Dervish to a psychiatric hospital instead of a prison cell.

“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 Pima County prosecutor Mark Hotchkiss said evidence showed Dervish planned Meixner’s killing and bought the murder weapon — a 9 mm handgun — a month before the shooting.

“He is not guilty but insane. He's just guilty," Hotchkiss said of Dervish.

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 Dervish ever entered the John W. Harshbarger Building, which houses the hydrology department.

The complaint also said Dervish was barred from 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 on the afternoon of Oct. 5, 2022.

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 that the ammunition was consistent with the shell casings found at the shooting scene.

Walter Berry, The Associated Press

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