Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).
Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the
trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a
What it means: To prove a charge of attempting to
make a terrorist threat, the prosecution must introduce more than just a
few writings that appear to be threatening from a student who aspires
to be a rap singer, plus weapons without bullets, and the opening of a
PayPal account under a pseudonym.
Summary: Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern
Illinois University Edwardsville, opened a PayPal account under the name
“Jeff Robinson” on May 3, 2007. On July 16, the bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms informed campus police Oduwole had recently
purchased four pistols.
Campus police decided on July 20 Oduwole’s vehicle had
been left unattended for more than two days. In accordance with
university policy, a campus police officer prepared to tow it away.
During a routine inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the officer found
bullets in the console.
He also found a piece of paper depicting an inhaler and
handwriting. Much of the writing was unconnected words, but it also had
the phrase: “SEND 2 to … paypal account 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
Oduwole was immediately arrested and charged with
attempting to convey a terrorist threat. A loaded pistol and nearly
2,000 pages of writings were seized from his room pursuant to a search
warrant. A large percentage of the entries appeared to be rap lyrics or
writings related to aspiring to have a rap career.
A more thorough search of the vehicle uncovered a knit
cap with a ski mask hidden behind the back seat. The searches didn’t
yield any indication of plans to distribute a threat or ammunition for
the handguns Oduwole had purchased.
A forensic specialist concluded the handwriting on the paper was Oduwole’s.
A Microsoft Movie Maker file was found on the hard drive
of his computer, but the file had been deleted. However, some captions
remained in a compressed drive and the picture files had names of
universities such as Harvard University and Penn State.
At his trial, Oduwole produced evidence he was an
aspiring rap artist, and an expert testified the handwriting amounted to
the beginning of a song.
Oduwole was found guilty of illegally possessing a
firearm and attempting to make a terrorist threat. He appealed only the
terrorist threat conviction.
The state argued the handwritten phrase on the paper,
the creation of the Movie Maker file, and the opening of the PayPal
account either individually or collectively was sufficient to support
But the appellate court said there was no evidence Oduwole ever had a plan to disseminate the writing on the paper.
And it said PayPal accounts and Movie Maker files weren’t specially designed for unlawful purposes.
Finally, the court found no evidence Oduwole targeted
anyone in whom he intended to instill fear. The panel didn’t mention a
fake name on his PayPal account or the ski mask hidden in his car.
The panel concluded the evidence merely showed
activities consistent with a variety of scenarios. It reversed Oduwole’s