EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — An aspiring rapper was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison over a 2007 money-demanding note that threatened a Virginia Tech-like killing spree, failing to convince a judge the writing was innocent lyrics and other musings.
A barely audible Olutosin Oduwole insisted in court that he "did not mean to incite fear."
"That was never my intention. That is not my character," said the 26-year-old rapper and former Southern Illinois University student. The note was found in his car on the college's campus.
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli said jurors were right when they convicted Oduwole in October of attempting to make a terrorist threat, a felony.
"The jury found that this was not a song. They found it was a threat, and I do not disagree with them," the judge said of the case.
Oduwole stared blankly toward Tognarelli when the judge rejected the defense's call for probation and ordered what he described as "appropriate" prison time. The sentence was well short of the maximum 15-year term prosecutors were seeking.
Tognarelli also sentenced Oduwole to 364 days and a $1,000 fine on a related conviction of illegally having or storing a loaded pistol in his on-campus apartment the day he was arrested in July 2007, just months after the Virginia Tech rampage that left 32 people dead along with the gunman.
Tognarelli ordered the terms to be served at the same time, minus whatever time Oduwole has already spent in jail. He rejected Oduwole's requests for a new trial and release on bond pending his appeals, saying he still sees Oduwole as a public threat.
Oduwole was attending the Illinois school's 13,000-student Edwardsville campus, northeast of St. Louis, 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, threatening "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, the writing did not make any direct reference to targeting the Edwardsville campus.
Even before the piece of paper was found 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 semiautomatic weapons – including an Uzi-like Mac 10 – that he had ordered.
Prosecutors said in court Wednesday that the totality of those circumstances, along with the loaded gun found in Oduwole's apartment, constituted a potential danger that could not be ignored.
"I'm having a hard time coming up with a scenario where that isn't threatening serious harm," prosecutor John Fischer argued, insisting that Oduwole be given a tough sentence that could dissuade others from acting similarly. "Having a loaded gun on campus is inappropriate, regardless of the threat. The threat rises it to another level."
Oduwole's attorneys, as they had at trial, 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 found crumpled in his abandoned car was never meant to be made public or shared.
"Olutosin Oduwole was prosecuted for his thoughts," Jeffrey Urdangen argued on Oduwole's behalf. "At the end of the day, judge, everything else being equal, I can honestly characterize this as a First Amendment train wreck."
After Wednesday's sentencing, Oduwole pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft and computer fraud related to his online sale of a gun he did not have, though he collected money from the would-be buyer. Oduwole was sentenced to 2 1/2 years of probation on those charges, which will be served with the prison time.