Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Fri, 18 Jan 2002

Law dean’s death shocks friends

Brian Hicks
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

The Lowcountry friends and family of a Virginia law school dean gunned down by a student say they are shocked by the death of a man who did nothing his entire life but help people, including the man who killed him.

Anthony Sutin had given Peter Odighizuwa a second chance when the man flunked out of the Appalachian School of Law in rural Grundy, Va., something a lot of deans would not have done, his students and colleagues say.

But when Sutin would not let Odighizuwa re-enroll a third time, police say the man shot Sutin in his office Wednesday afternoon, then killed another member of the law school faculty and a student and injured three students before he was wrestled to the ground by other students and arrested.

It was a sad end to the life of Sutin, the son-in-law of Allendale attorney Thomas O. Lawton—a former law partner of Gov. Robert E. McNair and chairman of the South Carolina Tricentennial Commission.

Sutin, 42, was a humble man who had accomplished much, his family said, and still had much more to do.

“Until something like this happens, you don’t realize how precious life is,” said Angus Lawton, a Charles-ton attorney and Sutin’s brother-in-law. “Our family is saddened by this tragedy, and we will miss Tony greatly. We appreciate the thoughts and prayers of our friends, and we wish the very best for the Appalachian School of Law.”

Nine years ago, Margaret Lawton of Allendale married Sutin, a soft-spoken man from Long Island, N.Y., who loved country music and was so modest he didn’t like to mention he was a graduate of Harvard Law School.

At the time, Sutin was a Washington, D.C., attorney who became acting assistant attorney general under Janet Reno.

The family lived in Alexandria, Va., until Sutin decided to help out with a fledgling law school nestled in the Appalachian Mountains.

Sutin started as a professor but soon was made dean of the Appalachian School of Law, a small school in the economically depressed town of Grundy, 45 miles north of Bristol, near the Kentucky and West Virginia borders.

Sutin loved the small-town feel. In an April interview with the Roanoke Times, Sutin said he loved the old-fashioned qualities of life in Grundy, knowing all your neighbors and being able to leave your doors unlocked.

He felt it was a good place to raise his growing family. Sutin and Lawton had adopted two children, the second one only a month ago—a 14-month-old baby from China.

Sutin’s murder brought reaction from across the country. Attorney General John Ashcroft called him a “dedicated public servant.” Paul Dull, a former student of Sutin’s, told the Roanoke Times that “The legal community has lost a great individual. Dean Sutin was one of those guys you aspired to be. He thought being a lawyer was a commendable profession.”

The local connection to the national news story had trickled into Charleston by early Thursday, and some of the friends of the family made plans to travel to Virginia for memorial services this weekend.

“The Lawton family has a lot of friends in Charleston that are shocked and saddened by this,” said Joseph H. McGee, a friend of the family.

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