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Former student gets life sentence for killing University of Arizona professor

University of Arizona campus
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
University of Arizona's campus.

A former University of Arizona graduate student was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally shooting a hydrology professor on campus months after he was expelled.

A Pima County jury last month found Murad Dervish guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Thomas Meixner, who was shot 11 times near his office on Oct. 5, 2022.

Meixner, 52, headed the university’s Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. Dervish, 48, 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.

Dervish claimed he did not receive a fair trial. Judge Howard Fell said that would be for others to decide.

"And if they decide that, then perhaps you’ll get another trial. But right now, you’re going to prison, for the rest of your life," Fell said.

Meixner’s son Sean said he would rather die than forgive Dervish.

"I hate him. I hate that he took a man who cared so deeply for others from this world in such cruel fashion. I hate that a man – if he can even be called that, with such a worthless soul – could take a good man with a heart and soul of gold out of this world," Sean Meixner said.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours on May 21 before reaching their verdicts against Dervish.

He also was convicted on five other felony counts, including aggravated assault for a bullet that grazed a building manager.

During the trial, Dervish’s attorney said his client was in the midst of a psychotic episode at the time of the shooting and urged jurors to consider a lesser charge of second-degree murder that could have meant confinement in a psychiatric hospital, rather than a prison cell.

Man with mustache
Pima County Sheriff’s Department
Murad Dervish

But prosecutors said evidence showed Dervish planned Meixner’s killing and bought a 9 mm handgun a month before using it in the shooting.

According to a criminal complaint, a flyer with a photograph of Dervish was then circulated 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 barred from school property and was 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.

Dervish fled the scene but was arrested three hours later after Arizona state troopers stopped his car on a highway more than 120 miles northwest of Tucson.

Authorities said a loaded handgun was found in the vehicle, and the ammunition was consistent with the shell casings found at the shooting scene.

“The man who took my husband’s life will spend the rest of his life in prison, but that doesn’t bring Tom back,” Kathleen Meixner said in a statement after the sentencing. “My sons will never see their father again in this life. The University of Arizona lost a treasured professor. The community lost a brilliant scientist."

News director Chad Snow joined the KJZZ newsroom in 2016.
Associated Press
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