Former Law School Student Pleads Guilty
In Appalachian Slayings

By Chris Kahn
The Associated Press
March 1, 2004

In a deal with prosecutors to spare his life, a one-time Appalachian Law School student pleaded guilty Friday to killing the school's dean, a professor and a student in a 2002 shooting rampage.

Peter Odighizuwa burst into tears as he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus 28 years on firearms, capital murder and attempted capital murder charges. He said he wished he could bring back his three victims.

"You're going to be in prison for the rest of your life," Judge Michael Moore said in Buchanan County Circuit Court.

Police said Odighizuwa, who had flunked out of the Appalachian School of Law, brought a gun to campus in January 2002 and killed Dean L. Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell and student Angela Dales. Three other students were wounded.

Odighizuwa, 45, admitted to the slayings as part of a plea agreement to avoid a possible death sentence. He had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic but was found mentally competent to stand trial.

"He's sorry for what he did," defense lawyer Roger Groot said after the hearing.

Buchanan County Commonwealth's Attorney Sheila Tolliver had vowed to seek Odighizuwa's execution while attending memorial services for the victims. She declined to comment after Friday's hearing, but her assistant handed out a statement that said prosecutors had "concerns over the mental issues in the case."

The three students wounded in the shootings sued the law school, claiming it was negligent in protecting the students and faculty from Odighizuwa, who was known to be prone to outbursts.

About 50 of the law school's students and staff joined the victims' families inside the courtroom. Many wept as police officers entered Odighizuwa's .380 caliber pistol into evidence and recounted seeing the bloody bodies after the shooting.

Sutin's wife, Margaret Lawton, said nothing could bring her husband back and she would rather spend her time remembering how he lived. Blackwell's teenage son, Zeb, said his father taught him how to forgive and love people despite their faults.

"I hope, Peter, you can understand that I love you," Zeb Blackwell said, turning to Odighizuwa.

Some of the victims were less forgiving.

Emmitt Yeary, an Abingdon attorney representing three wounded students and Dales' estate in a lawsuit against the school, said outside court that Dales' family wanted the death penalty.

"It's unfortunate that this trial was handled in this way," Yeary said.

The wounded students, Rebecca Brown, Madeline Short and Stacey Beans, claim in court documents that school officials coddled Odighizuwa despite his failing grades because the Nigerian native was one of the school's few black students.

They said that administrators at the fledgling school, founded in 1997, were anxious to get full accreditation by the American Bar Association and knew that it took campus diversity into account when making such decisions.

The law school has declined to comment on the students' lawsuit.