Student accused of fatally shooting UNC professor may be mentally unfit for trial

A judge has ordered a second mental evaluation for Tailei Qi

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 20 September 2023 17:47 EDT

Related video: University on lockdown over ‘active shooting’ situation on campus

The graduate student accused of fatally shooting an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may be mentally unfit to stand trial, according to his defence attorney and a doctor's evaluation.

Tailei Qi, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder and having a gun on educational property after shooting and killing Zikie Yan, who worked as an associate professor in the college's department of applied physics, according to USA Today.

The shooting occurred on 28 August and shut the college down for about three hours.

Mr Qi spoke to the court on Tuesday, and complained that he was forced to undergo the mental evaluation requested by his attorneys, according to WRAL. He also said he was dissatisfied by his attorneys, arguing that their claims about his mental health were a means to "bypass" his complaints.

The judge presiding over the case has ordered Mr Qi to undergo a second mental evaluation to determine whether or not he can stand trial.

Mr Qi was working in the department of applied physical sciences, according to UNC's website, and Mr Yan, the professor who was killed, was listed as his adviser. The men had previously co-authored research papers together.

Police have not publicly revealed a motive in the shooting at this time.

The weapon used in the shooting still has not been located, according to ABC11, citing the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

If Mr Qi is found fit to stand trial, he faces a minimum of life in prison without parole and up to two additional years for the weapons charge. The maximum sentence he faces under North Carolina law is the death penalty, but the district attorney's office has said they do not intend to seek the death penalty.

Tailei Qi, the graduate student suspected in the fatal shooting of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty member, makes his first appearance at the Orange County Courthouse

Mr Qi was apprehended shortly after 2.30pm, approximately an hour-and-a-half after the shooting.

He allegedly walked into a classroom in the college's chemistry wing and shot Mr Yan. Mr Qi then allegedly left abruptly. Initial descriptions of the suspect led to police detaining and quickly releasing another Asian student who reportedly bore some resemblance to Mr Qi, according to NBC News.

The shooting sent the campus into a lockdown, and video of the day captured students climbing out of windows to escape what they feared would turn into a mass shooting event.

Campus activities and classes were cancelled for a week in the wake of the shooting just a week into the Fall semester.

“This loss is devastating and the shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted in our campus community. We will work to rebuild that sense of trust and safety within our community,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement following the shooting.

Mr Qi's next court date is tentatively scheduled for 14 November.

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