Local News

Guilty plea brings closure for UNC

Posted August 11, 2008 4:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2008 8:34 p.m. EDT

— Many of Mohammed Taheri-azar's victims have recovered from their injuries, but they are still dealing with emotional problems more than two years after he drove a rented Jeep into a UNC-Chapel Hill gathering place.

The frightening sights and sounds of the March 3, 2006, attack have not left Julian Wooten. He was in The Pit at the time.

"The Jeep swerved and then it sped up, and you could hear screams of people being hit," he recalled. "For a long time afterwards, it was really hard to be outside and to be, like, in a common area because you didn't know if that was going to be the only thing that would happen."

Taheri-azar's drawn-out legal proceedings did not help Wooten get over those fears.

"Every day that you see him on TV and you see him in the courtroom, it kind of makes it more real for you and brings back those memories," he said.

Taheri-azar pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to nine counts of attempted first-degree murder. The judge indicated he would consolidate the plea into two counts of attempted first-degree murder, with the sentences served consecutively.

Taheri-azar could serve time between a minimum of 20 years and 10 months and a maximum of 33 years. Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said he expected nine of Taheri-azar's victims to attend the sentencing on Aug. 26.

At the time of the attack, Taheri-azar told police he wanted to kill people in response to the U.S. government's treatment of Muslims abroad. He also told police he expected to die as a result of his actions – either by people at the scene attacking him or police shooting him.

Since he expected to die, he left a letter at his house, which he told authorities about after his arrest.

"He's very clear in this letter that his intent was to kill people," Woodall said.

Woodall said Taheri-azar rented the Jeep because he thought it could do the most damage.

Many of the those who were on campus during the attack have graduated. "I think it's a bit distant for the campus community," Daily Tar Heel Editor Allison Nichols said.

For the staff of the Tar Heel, Taheri-azar never faded to a memory. He wrote at least 60 letters to the newspaper after the attack. In them, he explained that he planned to injure students as retaliation for the treatment of Muslims abroad.

For them, covering Tuesday's guilty plea is closure, Nichols said.

Wooten agreed. "I'm glad that he pleaded guilty because it was definitely him. He did it, and I think he needs to face justice for what he did – not to just people who were actually hit by the car, but the campus community," he said.