|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Fri, 18 Jan 2002
Laurence Hammack And Tad Dickens
As Peter Odighizuwa was led to court Thursday, handcuffed and hunched over, someone in a throng of reporters shouted, “Peter, why’d you do it?”
“I was sick; I was sick,” Odighizuwa replied. “I need help.”
A few minutes later, as the 43-year-old was arraigned on charges that he killed three people and wounded three more in a shooting spree at the Appalachian School of Law, he told Judge Patrick Johnson that he had not seen his doctor or received his medication while in jail.
Speaking rapidly and almost incomprehensibly, the former law student leaned over in his chair and used his arrest warrants to shield his face from a bevy of news photographers who crowded the courtroom.
Odighizuwa’s comments and interviews with neighbors and fellow students suggest that his mental state may become an issue in his capital murder prosecution.
Buchanan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Sheila Tolliver said she expects Odighizuwa’s defense attorney to request a psychiatric evaluation. “That’s one of the first things they will look at,” she said.
But based on what police say - that Odighizuwa killed the school’s dean, a professor and a student because he was angry that he had been suspended from school for the second time - Tolliver has already decided to seek the death penalty.
“I don’t think I would be doing my job if I didn’t,” she said. “It’s just a senseless, violent act.
“From what I understand, these all were people who knew him and were trying to help him,” she said of the victims. Authorities say they think that Anthony Sutin, dean of the fledgling law school, was the first to die after Odighizuwa arrived on campus about 1 p.m. Wednesday to discuss his academic suspension, which became effective that day.
Sutin, 42, was shot with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his second-floor office. Professor Thomas Blackwell, 41, was shot next in his office. After that, four students were fired upon in the student lobby on the first floor of the school’s main building.
Angela Denise Dales, 33, a former staffer at the school who became a student, died at a hospital. Three other students - Martha Madeline Short, 37; Stacey Bean, 22; and Rebecca Claire Brown, 38, of Roanoke - were all listed in fair condition Thursday.
Hospital officials said all three women are expected to be released within a week.
On Thursday, police added three counts of attempted capital murder to the list of charges that Odighizuwa faces. He was charged immediately after the shooting with three counts of capital murder. In Virginia, killing two or more people as part of a single offense is a capital crime.
Court records show that Odighizuwa was charged in August with assaulting his wife, who ended up leaving him the following month. In October, a judge took the case under advisement for a year with the understanding that the charge would be dismissed if there were no further problems.
Although an emergency protective order was issued, Abieyuwa Odighizuwa did not seek a permanent restraining order. Had she done so, it would have been illegal for her husband to possess a firearm.
The gun used in Wednesday’s killing was purchased some time before the assault charge was filed, said Tolliver, who said he was not aware of any reason - such as a prior felony conviction - that Odighizuwa would not have been allowed to legally possess a firearm.
At Thursday’s arraignment in Buchanan County General District Court, Judge Johnson appointed Radford attorney Jimmy Turk to represent Odighizuwa. He scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 21.
Meanwhile, those who knew Odighizuwa portrayed him as a troubled student and a distant husband.
“He was an angry man,” said Shirley Trent Stanley, who lived next door to the Odighizuwas before they moved away last fall. As Odighizuwa’s grades fell at the law school, he would complain that the professors and students were harassing him, she said.
Stanley said that while Odighizuwa was always a quiet loner, he seemed nice enough until his first semester of law school. After flunking out in 2000, he was not allowed to visit the library, she said. “I’m sure that was persecution, in his mind,” she said.
As Odighizuwa’s mood appeared to darken, Stanley suggested to his wife - with whom she was close - that he should seek psychiatric help.
Odighizuwa refused to seek treatment, Stanley said.
Buchanan County authorities said that in the past year, Odighizuwa twice made complaints to them, saying that his home had been entered by someone who apparently did not take anything, and that on another occasion a bullet was left on his basement steps.
Police found the steps covered with dust and cobwebs, with no indication that anyone had been on them recently, said Chief Deputy Randall Ashby. And at the time Odighizuwa’s home was reportedly entered, the back door had been left open.
Odighizuwa and his family moved to Grundy from Ohio in 2000 so he could attend the law school.
Descriptions of Odighizuwa by people in Dayton, Ohio, sound like a cliche - he was quiet, kept to himself, didn’t make trouble, they said.
He was helpful to at least one set of neighbors at the Neal Avenue apartment building where he lived for about four years. Josephine Percy, who with her husband, Jefferson, lived downstairs from the Odighizuwas, said he brought in the groceries and took out the trash for the elderly couple.
“He would help us with anything we needed to have done,” Josephine Percy said. “He asked to see how we were, if we needed anything, all that sort of stuff.”
Odighizuwa and his wife were very quiet and stable people who worked “all the time,” she said.
“They were just nice, mannerly people.”
He never discussed any law school plans but did tell acquaintances that he planned to eventually move back to his homeland of Nigeria “to help his people,” according to Percy and Paula Bartley, the apartment house manager.
Odighizuwa was licensed as a substitute teacher in the Dayton area, according to the state board of education. He was licensed in Montgomery County, Ohio, for the 1999-2000 school year, but that school system had no records Thursday of his having taught there.
He was licensed to teach the following school year in the Trotwood-Madison City school district, although it was unclear Thursday whether he actually taught there.
Odighizuwa’s family suddenly packed a car full of belongings and left town more than a year ago, Paula Bartley said. He told her that the family had to move because he had lost his job. Bartley said she did not know what the job was. She said that after they left, Bartley found the apartment a mess.
“It surprised us when they just up and moved,” she said. “When they left here, they just literally packed stuff into their car and left.”