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Shooting suspect Tailei Qi found unfit for trial in professor’s death

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UNC graduate student and shooting suspect Tailei Qi makes his first appearance at the Orange County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

Updated Nov. 27 at 4:14 p.m.:

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of self-harm.

Tailei Qi, the suspect charged with the murder of UNC associate professor Zijie Yan, has been found unfit to continue to trial due to mental illness.

During a hearing on Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Alyson Grine ruled that Qi will be committed to Central Regional Hospital for mental health treatment.

According to Grine, Qi demonstrated behavior consistent with severe mental illness while in detention, including delusional thinking, paranoia and self-harm. If his condition improves, doctors at Central Regional Hospital must notify Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman and court proceedings will continue.

"This is not an end to the case," Nieman told The Daily Tar Heel. He said that Qi's move to hospitalization is only a "pause" in the trial process.

Nieman said the defense first hired psychiatrist Dr. George Corvin to evaluate Qi's mental health. The prosecution then had a state expert, Dr. Nicole Wolfe, perform a court-ordered evaluation. At the hearing, Nieman said the second evaluation was commonplace.

Those two separate evaluations found that Qi was unfit to stand trial. Grine noted that he likely has schizophrenia. 

Nieman said the evaluations determined that Qi's mental health renders him incapable of understanding the nature of the proceedings against him and assisting his attorney in his own defense.

Qi will receive treatment with the goal of improving his mental health so he can proceed to trial, Neiman also said, but there is a chance Qi's doctors could conclude that Qi is incapable of restoration. 

"There's really no definitive timeline," he said. "It's kind of in the doctor's hands at this point."

Though there are many factors that affect how a case proceeds to trial, including mental health treatment in Qi's case, Nieman said the average time for a deposition of a homicide in Orange County from the time of offense to the time of resolution is between 1.5 and 2.5 years.

Qi was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and the possession of a firearm on educational property in August. He has been held without bond in the Orange County Detention Center. He last appeared in court in September.

The autopsy for Yan shows the professor was shot seven times in his office in Caudill Laboratories. 

@l_rhodsie 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is the 2024 university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant editor and senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics.