Tuesday, August 26, 2008
By MARLON A. WALKER
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) — A former student was sentenced to up to 33 years in prison Tuesday for plowing his sport utility vehicle into a crowd at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a self-professed bid to avenge Muslim deaths overseas.
Mohammed Taheri-Azar, 25, pleaded guilty earlier this month to nine counts of attempted murder for the March 2006 attack at a popular outdoor gathering spot known as The Pit.
One person had a head injury and several were cut and bruised from jumping out of the SUV's path, but no one stayed in the hospital overnight, Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said.
Victim Karen Harman said in court Tuesday that when she saw a Jeep coming toward her, she assumed it was headed to The Pit to do work.
"But the driver hit the gas, and I mean, he hit the gas. In the next instant, I was on the ground, clutching my knee in pain," she said.
Former history professor Michael Allsep, whose wrist and tailbone were broken, said he feared for his life.
"This man not only tried to kill me and my students, he tried to kill the best of our future. He failed only through poor execution," Allsep wrote in a statement read by his mother.
The original charges were consolidated into two counts of attempted murder for sentencing purposes. Taheri-Azar was sentenced to between 13 and 16 1/2 years in prison on each count.
The guilty plea comes after a tumultuous court process. Taheri-Azar initially tried to represent himself, then tried to fire his lawyer. After an outburst in court in 2007, a judge ordered a mental evaluation.
Authorities said Taheri-Azar was traveling between 10 and 30 mph when he drove onto campus and through The Pit.
Afterward, he waited in his vehicle for police for about 15 minutes and told them he was the man they were looking for. Police found a letter in his apartment that he had written them because he thought he would be killed during the attack.
The letter said he wanted revenge for the deaths of Muslims overseas that he said were caused by the U.S. He has said he rented a Jeep Cherokee because it was better equipped for what he planned to do.
Taheri-Azar is a naturalized citizen from Iran who grew up near Charlotte and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill.