A district attorney has ruled out the possibility of seeking the death penalty for the UNC doctoral student accused of murdering his academic advisor in a shooting that sparked terror across the Chapel Hill campus.
The UNC community is still reeling from a shooting on Monday that left one faculty member dead and forced frantic students fearing for their lives to barricade themselves inside lecture halls.
Tailei Qi, an applied sciences PhD student at UNC, has been charged with first-degree murder and possession of a weapon on academic premises in connection with the fatal shooting of his lab advisor Zijie Yan.
Mr Qi appeared in court on Tuesday and was ordered held without bail. The suspect had a Mandarin interpreter during his arraignment and was scheduled to reappear in court next month.
Prosecutors did not share a potential motive for why Mr Qi allegedly carried out the attack on Yan. In an interview following the hearing, Orange County District Attorney Jeff Niemen said he would not be seeking the death penalty in Mr Qi’s case “or any case,” FOX8 reports.
Responding to criticism about his stance on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Nieman said: “I was very transparent about my position on the death penalty in candidate forums.”
Mr Nieman pledged to not seek the death penalty if elected as he campaigned in 2021 to become the DA in Chatam and Orange counties.
“You can let someone out of prison, but you can’t un-kill them,” Mr Nieman said in a statement at the time. “The death penalty is a complicated societal issue, one that I am ready to discuss in greater depth with our community members in the months ahead. But for the reasons briefly cited above and more, I will not seek the death penalty in my district.”
Mr Qi is being held without bail at the Orage County Sheriff’s Jail in Hillsborough County. He was arrested near a residential area two miles away from campus following a three-hour lockdown on Monday.
According to his LinkedIn page, Mr Qi graduated from Wuhan University in 2015 and also received a master’s in material science from Lousiana State University in 2021. Mr Qi then joined UNC at Chapel Hill’s Yan Lab in 2022, with his profile page on the university’s website taken down by Tuesday.
Wen Liu, a 2022 UNC graduate who worked in the lab with Qi, told the AP that he was “somewhat reserved” but still “pretty sociable.” Ms Liu also said that Qi would often answer other lab member’s questions with “patience and respect.”
“For hours he would just be doing things and explaining along the way,” Ms Liu said.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said on Tuesday that Yan left two young daughters behind and described the slain professor as a “beloved colleague and friend” who was fondly remembered by everyone who crossed paths with him.
Mr Qi is expected to appear in court again on 18 September.