Updated at 11:40 a.m. with a statement from prosecuting attorney Thomas Gibbons.
An Illinois appeals court has overturned the conviction of a Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville student charged with planning to threaten a mass shooting at the campus.
A Madison County jury convicted Olutosin Oduwole, a St. Louis native, of the attempted terrorist threat charge in October 2011. The case began more than four years before when the owner of a gun shop in Godfrey, Ill. contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with concerns that Oduwole was attempting to make a straw purchase of four handguns.
Later that month, SIUE police found a threatening note while conducting an inventory of Oduwole's car before towing it. The paper made reference to the Virginia Tech shootings, and pledged that something similar would happen "at another highly populated university" if a PayPal account did not reach $50,000 in the next week. Officers testified that the threat could not be read from outside the car, and that they found no envelopes or stamps to indicate Oduwole planned to mail the note to anyone.
Oduwole said the note was merely rap lyrics. A jury didn't buy it, and sentenced him to five years in prison for the offense of attempting to make a terroristic threat. In other words, the purchase of the four handguns, plus the presence of the threatening note, indicated that Oduwole had taken a "substantial step" toward carrying out the act of threatening a mass shooting.
In a ruling handed down late yesterday, the three judges disagreed with the jury's reasoning, writing:
"On the continuum between preparation and perpetration, the acts cited by the State hover much closer to preparation that perpetration. The cited acts do not place the defendant in dangerous proximity to success ... The evidence in this record establishes at best preparatory activities that were consistent with a variety of scenarios."
The court did not address whether the law was constitutional, and upheld Oduwole's separate misdemeanor conviction for having an unauthorized gun in student housing.
A spokeswoman said Madison County prosecutor Tom Gibbons is reviewing the appeals court ruling and will be considering all options, including an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
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