|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Fri, 18 Jan 2002
Townspeople watched in shock and grief Thursday as the law student known on campus as Peter O. was led into the Buchanan County courtroom, shuffling in chains and hiding his face from cameras, to face murder charges in this remote Appalachian coal town.
Peter Odighizuwa looked at the floor as he was accused of assaulting his colleagues at the 5-year-old Appalachian School of Law and murdering the founding dean, a second faculty member and a student caught in the handgun rampage. Three other people were wounded.
“Section 18.3,” the clerk intoned as the bloody rampage was translated into cold subsections of the state criminal code.
Possible death penalty case
Prosecutor Sheila Tolliver said she will seek the death penalty.
A few law students listened, appalled at the lesson in life and law unfolding before them.
During his arraignment on three counts of capital murder and six weapons charges, Odighizuwa told the judge he was sick and needed help.
“I was supposed to see my doctor,” he said, hiding his face behind a green arrest warrant. “He was supposed to help me out . . . I don’t have my medication.”
As cameras bored in on the lens-shy defendant, the town tried to absorb the fact that the law school, one of the most hopeful innovations in decades in hard-pressed Grundy, had been visited by tragedy just at the moment of its greatest promise.
“Oh, Tony, my dear friend,” said Richard Mullins, a bike shop proprietor and law book dealer, mourning Dean Anthony Sutin, 42.
Sutin, a cum laude Harvard Law School graduate and Clinton administration Justice Department veteran, had retreated from the limelight of Washington to pioneer an adventure in education amid the beauty and chronic poverty of backwoods Appalachia. He was fatally shot at close range Wednesday as he worked in his office.
A second notice of dismissal last week left Odighizuwa increasingly confrontational, students and faculty members said. Police said the shooting occurred after he arrived to protest his dismissal.
Law program had flourished
The school, which had a faculty of 15 and more than 200 students, earned provisional accreditation last year from the American Bar Association. This meant graduates finally had standing to take bar exams.
“The network was starting to take hold,” Mullins said, and so was the rustic professorial life sought by Sutin, whose wife, Margaret Lawton, was also on the faculty.
In their home on Walnut Street, the couple had just adopted a daughter from China to join their adopted Russian-born son, residents said.
Also killed was professor Thomas Blackwell, 41, shot to death seconds after the dean.
A graduate of Duke Law School, Blackwell had built a life in a foothills home with his wife, Lisa, a worker at the school law library, and their three young sons.
Odighizuwa sought no less an idyllic place when he arrived here two years ago, intent on a law degree. Odighizuwa, 43, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Nigeria, brought his wife, Abieyuwa, and four sons with him to Virginia. They soon needed charity, and Grundy residents quietly obliged, with Sutin helping him get a car and a loan, school colleagues said.
But Odighizuwa failed courses and then faced wife-beating charges last August. Those charges are pending.
Access to gun a mystery
It was clear in interviews that there were many questions about Odighizuwa, including why he chose the law school here and, most pressing, how he might have gotten a handgun.
The third person killed, Angela Denise Dales, also had high hopes at the school. Dales, 33, who was raising her 7-year-old daughter alone, first worked at the school office but then realized her dream to enroll and seek a law degree. She was shot in the neck as the gunman moved from the faculty quarter to the students’ Lions Lounge and sprayed students with a .380 semiautomatic handgun.
“We’re all devastated,” said Tom Scott, a local lawyer and close friend of Sutin’s. “This is a sleepy community, but we all understand by now that this type of incident can happen anywhere in the U.S.A.”
Odighizuwa was held without bail pending a March hearing.
GRAPHIC: PHOTOPHOTO: Mourners try to comfort one another Thursday in Grundy, Va., following a memorial service for victims of Wednesday’s attack. AP photo by Steve Helber.