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Appeals court throws out threat conviction of former Illinois college student

(MCT) EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — A former student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville may soon leave prison after an appeals court threw out his 2011 conviction on a charge that he took steps toward threatening a shooting rampage.

Olutosin Oduwole has always insisted that what police found written on a paper inside his stalled car on campus on July 20, 2007, was not a threat but the draft of rap song lyrics. He was found guilty by a Madison County jury nonetheless of attempting to make a terrorist threat, and sentenced to five years in prison.

In an opinion filed Wednesday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 5th District Illinois Appellate Court, in Mount Vernon, found insufficient evidence for a conviction.

“The facts and circumstances presented here, when taken in a light most favorable to the prosecution, do not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had taken a substantial step toward making a terrorist threat,” Judge Judy L. Cates wrote. “More evidence was necessary than what was shown at trial.”

The 18-page opinion noted that the writing was inside a locked car, not visible from the outside and not accompanied by stamps or envelopes to suggest an intent to send it. Judges Melissa A. Chapman and Bruce D. Stewart concurred with Cates.

In filing the appeal, defense attorney Jeffrey Urdangen had called the case “a First Amendment train wreck.” But Madison County State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons had insisted the prosecution may have saved multiple lives.

Officials at Gibbons’ office said Thursday they were still reviewing the decision. Among the potential options would be an appeal to the Illinois State Supreme Court.

Urdangen said he and his team were pleased at the appellate court’s decision. “These are the same arguments we’ve been making to the prosecutor, to the judge and to the jury for a number of years now,” he said.

Urdangen said members of his staff have spoken with Oduwole, now 27, who was reported to be “delighted.”

“The next thing is … we are going to try to arrange for his release,” Urdangen said. “That will be undertaken soon.” Oduwole is held in prison at Jacksonville, Ill., according to an online listing.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville officials declined comment on the development.

Oduwole did not appeal a separate conviction on a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing a handgun on public property — his apartment on the SIUE campus. For that, Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli added to a concurrent term of 364 days and a $1,000 fine, a sentence already satisfied.

At issue in the threat case was a scrap of paper police found in Oduwole’s locked car that seemed to threaten “a murderous rampage” at a large university unless money was placed in an unspecified PayPal account online. The language did not say that SIUE would be the target.

An officer found the paper while taking inventory of the car before having it towed, after it sat along North University Drive near Lewis Road for two days, out of gas.

Oduwole was already under police scrutiny for several days, after a firearms transfer agent — a licensed dealer who acts as an intermediary in online gun transactions — notified federal agents about his concern that Oduwole was uncommonly eager for delivery of four weapons he had purchased.

This was happening only about two months after an unrelated situation in which a student killed 32 people and wounded 25 in a shooting spree at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va.

After Oduwole was arrested, police found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in his home in the Cougar Village apartments, on campus.

Prosecutor James Buckley argued to the Oduwole jury that the writing was like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. But Urdangen said there was no threat and no attempt to communicate one.

In an apparently separate situation, Oduwole pleaded guilty of felony counts of theft and computer fraud from 2007. He was accused of selling a firearm online and collecting a $1,000 deposit without ever owning or delivering the gun. Tognarelli sentenced him to 30 months probation for that.


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