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Taheri-Azar changes his mind and pleads guilty.

A University of North Carolina (UNC) graduate accused of driving into a campus crowd--in an admitted attempt to avenge Muslim deaths overseas --reversed his original not guilty plea Tuesday and pled guilty to first-degree attempted murder.

Mohammad Taheri-Azar, 25, was originally charged with nine counts of attempted murder and nine counts of felonious assault in connection with the March 3, 2006, incident at a popular outdoor gathering spot at the UNC campus, which injured nine people, none of them seriously.

"He has repeatedly stated that he intended to kill people, made statements on camera that it was his intention," Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said during a court hearing.

Taheri-Azar had originally pleaded not guilty, and vowed for a while to defend himself. As part of his plea deal, the assault charges were dismissed.

Taheri-Azar's sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 26; he faces up to 40 years.

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The guilty plea comes after what has been described as a chaotic court process. Taheri-Azar initially told the judge he rejected a court-appointed attorney and wished to represent himself. But when the judge informed him he would have to undergo a court-ordered mental exam, Taheri-Azar immediately accepted the attorney. After an outburst in court in 2007, however, in which he insulted the judge, Taheri-Azar was sent away for a mental evaluation.

Taheri-Azar's sisters last year told The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, their brother is mentally unstable and had showed signs of multiple personality disorder. Public Defender James Williams said his client "has a severe mental illness."

Laila Taheri-Azar said her brother's outbursts shows his mental instability. She said he tried to kill himself in Central Prison at least twice--once by fasting, and once by ingesting a hair lotion.

Taheri-Azar told investigators and reporters he drove his vehicle into the student crowd in an effort to avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world, deaths he blamed on the United States. Ironically, his mother worked in Afghanistan as a translator for the U.S. Army.

Taheri-Azar is a naturalized citizen who grew up near Charlotte and graduated with a double major in psychology and philosophy.
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Title Annotation:Diaspora: Around the globe
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Aug 15, 2008
Words:357
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