ST. LOUIS (AP) — An Illinois appeals court has thrown out the conviction and five-year prison sentence against an aspiring rapper who prosecutors said threatened a murderous rampage in a scribbled note found in the college student’s car.
The Mount Vernon-based 5th District Appellate Court on Wednesday scrapped Olutosin Oduwole’s 2011 felony conviction of attempting to make a terrorist threat, ruling that prosecutors failed to prove he ever actively tried to convey any supposed threat.
The unanimous decision by the three-judge appellate panel could soon make Oduwole a free man, as long as prosecutors don’t pursue the case further. The appeal did not apply to Oduwole’s related conviction of illegally having or storing a loaded pistol in his on-campus apartment — a crime that landed him a 364-day prison sentence, time he already has served.
A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney office in Madison County, Ill., where Oduwole was tried, said Thursday that prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and could comment later about any recourse.
Oduwole’s jubilant attorney, Jeff Urdangen, said the ruling was “wonderful,” after learning of it from The Associated Press.
“I’ve been waiting for that opinion. Wow,” Urdangen said. He said he would comment further once he has read the 18-page ruling.
Oduwole was attending Southern Illinois University’s 13,000-student Edwardsville campus, northeast of St. Louis, in July 2007 when campus police found a piece of paper in his abandoned car, which they had impounded and was out of gas.
The writing demanded payment to a PayPal account, warning “if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!”
While referencing the Virginia Tech massacre, which just months earlier had left 32 people dead along with the gunman, the writing did not make any direct reference to targeting the Edwardsville campus.
Even before the piece of paper turned up in his car, Oduwole was being scrutinized by federal agents. A gun dealer had tipped them off earlier in the month that Oduwole appeared overly anxious to get four semi-automatic weapons — including an Uzi-like Mac 10 — that he had ordered.
Prosecutors argued that the totality of those circumstances, along with a loaded gun found in Oduwole’s apartment, constituted a potential danger that could not be ignored.
Oduwole’s attorneys countered that the “note” was “nothing more than a piece of scrap paper with private thoughts, the beginning of a song.” They said the writing was never meant to be made public or shared.
“Olutosin Oduwole was prosecuted for his thoughts,” Urdangen argued at Oduwole’s December 2011 sentencing. “At the end of the day, judge, everything else being equal, I can honestly characterize this as a First Amendment train wreck.”
Oduwole told the judge he “did not mean to incite fear.”
Wednesday’s appellate ruling noted that the paper wasn’t prominently displayed in Oduwole’s locked car and was found underneath the center console, with no stamps or envelopes.
“The record reveals that there was no evidence of a communication of the writing in any form and no evidence that that defendant ever had a plan to disseminate it,” the opinion read. “In the absence of sufficient evidence that the defendant had taken a substantial step toward making a terrorist threat, his writings, as abhorrent as they might be, amount to mere thoughts.”
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