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

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

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

Dervish was also found guilty of five other felonies, including aggravated assault by a bullet that grazed the building manager. Dervish, who showed no emotion as the verdicts were read, will 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 program in atmospheric sciences.

Authorities said Dervish was banned from school in January 2022 and then expelled for ongoing problems with teachers after receiving a poor grade.

Defense attorney Leo Masursky told jurors in his closing argument Monday that Dervish was having a psychotic episode during the shooting and that the crime was not premeditated.

He said jurors should hold Dervish accountable, but urged them to consider a lesser charge of second-degree murder that could have meant confinement in a psychiatric hospital, rather than a prison cell.

“Murad Dervish lost his mind on October 5, 2022,” Masursky said. “He had serious mental health problems. He did not know right from wrong.”

But Pima County Prosecutor Mark Hotchkiss said evidence showed Dervish planned Meixner’s murder and purchased a 9mm handgun a month before using it in the shooting.

“He is not guilty but he is crazy. He’s just guilty,” Hotchkiss said of Dervish.

According to a criminal complaint, a flyer with a photo of Dervish was distributed to university staff in February 2022 with instructions to call 911 if Dervish ever entered the John W. Harshbarger Building, where Meixner worked.

The complaint also said Dervish was banned from school property and was the subject of several reports of harassment and threats to staff members who worked at Harshbarger.

Witnesses testified that Dervish was wearing a surgical mask and baseball cap as a disguise when he appeared in front of Meixner’s office and shot the professor.

Dervish fled the scene but was arrested three hours later after Arizona State Police stopped his car on a highway more than 190 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Tucson.

Authorities said a loaded handgun was found in the vehicle and the ammunition matched shell casings found at the scene of the shooting.

This story has been corrected to show that Dervish does not face the death penalty.