Illinois man freed after note deemed not a threat
ST. LOUIS – A former Southern Illinois University student convicted in 2011 of attempting to threaten a murderous rampage has been released from prison, days after an appeals court overturned the aspiring rapper's conviction and the ensuing five-year sentence.
Olutosin Oduwole, 27, was released Monday from a state lockup in Jacksonville. Last week, Illinois' 5th District Appellate Court tossed out his conviction, ruling that prosecutors failed to prove he ever actively tried to convey a threat.
During his trial in Madison County, Ill., prosecutors argued that on a piece of paper found in 2007 in Oduwole's car, which was found abandoned on the university's Edwardsville campus just northeast of St. Louis, he had written that he would go on a murderous rampage if he wasn't paid $50,000, and that this amounted to a threat.
Oduwole insisted the writings were innocent lyrics and other musings. Jeff Urdangen, one of his attorneys, has argued the "note" was "nothing more than a piece of scrap paper with private thoughts, the beginning of a song," that the writing was never meant to be made public or shared, and that his client's prosecution was "a First Amendment train wreck."
Noting that the paper wasn't prominently displayed in Oduwole's locked car and was found underneath the center console, with no stamps or envelopes, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled unanimously that Oduwole's writings amounted to mere thoughts, not threats.
Last week's ruling didn't apply to Oduwole's related conviction for 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.
It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would appeal Oduwole's overturned conviction. Stephanee Smith, a spokeswoman for the Madison County state's attorney's office, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that an announcement on that matter was pending.
Urdangen told the AP that Oduwole's prison release came with certain conditions he declined to publicly specify, other than that Oduwole remain in Illinois. Without disclosing Oduwole's whereabouts, Urdangen said Oduwole remained interested in furthering his own education and "is pursuing his options for the future," with plans soon to enroll in college.
In the note found in Oduwole's impounded car, he 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.