Judge William Alexander’s decision to dismiss Virginia Tech President Charles Steger as a defendant in the wrongful death suits filed by the Pryde and Petersen families, is tantamount to contributing to gross miscarriage of justice.
For months, powerful, wealthy, and influential backers of Steger have tried a variety of pressures to stop the Pryde and Petersen families from finding justice in a court of law. Conservative politicians have even gone so far as to try to change the law in a way to drag the trial out, apparently in hopes of bleeding the two families dry. These efforts have been unconscionable.
It appears that this pressure has now gotten to the judge. He is after all appointed by the state legislature for a set term. And, had Steger been kept on as a defendant, the judge might not have gotten reappointed the next time around. Had Steger had been convicted, Judge Alexander might have “decided” on early retirement to spend more time with his family. The Pryde and Petersen families don’t have that option with their daughters.
The judge dismissed Steger on the grounds the prosecution failed to prove that Steger delayed in issuing a warning to the campus following the double homicide at Ambler-West Johnston Hall. The judge misses the point. Steger was the one individual who had the authority to issue the warning and he did not—no matter what the reason.
The judge fails to appreciate the fact that Virginia Tech, and Steger, violated the school’s own rules and procedures on the morning of the shooting. The school, and by implication President Steger, have been found in violation of federal law--the Clery Act—for not warning immediately. The school’s security plans call for an immediate campus-wide warning in the event of a serious threat; they had done so several months earlier when they thought escaped convict and murderer William Morva, was on or near the campus.
Judge Alexander should not have dismissed Steger as a defendant; he should have kept him and added Police Chief Flinchum. It was the police chief’s responsibility, faced with two dead students and bloody footprints leading away from the crime scene, to recommend, or at least raise the possibility of a lock down. Flinchum “indicates” he did not raise the subject of a lock down—if so, that is negligence on his part. Not too long after Flinchum said he did not raise the subject of a lock down with President Steger, Virginia Tech put Flinchum in for 51% pay raise.
When I researched and wrote the book on the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law, January 16, 2002, I consulted with more than one lawyer on the merits of my arguments. Invariably, those lawyers asked me, “How many dirty judges did you find in southwest Virginia in your research.” What a terrible reputation some members of the legal profession from southwest Virginia have with their colleagues. Judge Alexander’s decision does not help that image.