VT Trial Jury Awards $4M in Damages to Plaintiffs
Reporter: David Tate
Christiansburg, VA - After eight days in court, a Montgomery County, jury has found Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia guilty of negligence for the lack of action on April 16, 2007.
The verdict goes contrary to what three separate independent panels found and could end up costing the state taxpayers $8 million.
Both families say that they are satisfied and have found some vindication even though they say they still didn't hear everything they wanted to hear.
The jury got the case just before noon Wednesday and took more than three hours before returning with their decision.
After the verdict was read, sobbing broke out in the courtroom as the victim's families in this case walked away saying they feel vindicated although they still have questions.
"Just this whole thing was just... you know from when everything started coming out about Cho and just the whole thing was crazy how they handled the whole thing. It just doesn't make sense man," said Grafton Peterson, Erin Peterson's father.
"We are disappointed in the jury's verdict. We believe we demonstrated beyond question that the crime that was committed in Norris Hall was unforeseen and unforeseeable," said William Broaddus, who was representing the Commonwealth.
The jury found in favor of both families awarding each $4 million. That financial decision was made, however, not knowing that a cap of $100,000 was in place for each family because of the nature of the suit against the Commonwealth.
Now a request will be heading toward Richmond in the hopes of securing the full $8 million for the Peterson and the Pryde families.
"The attorney general and the governor can agree to waive the cap and legislators can agree to introduce legislation to pay the amount of the verdict if the legislature chooses," said Bob Hall, the plaintiffs' co-attorney.
Both families say it was no surprise the jury came back in their favor. In fact, Grafton Peterson wondered out loud as to what took the jury more than three hours to make the decision.
"She couldn't speak anymore so we had to do it. We had to do it, you know. That's the way she was. That's just her personality... that's just the way she was. So we are standing for her. We plan on being her parents for the rest of our lives. We're still her parents and we didn't have anything else to do but seek out the truth," said Celeste Peterson, Erin Peterson's mother .
Statement released Wednesday afternoon from a Virginia Tech spokesperson Mark Owczarski:
"We are disappointed with today's decision and stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available on April 16, 2007. We do not believe that evidence presented at trial relative to the murders in West Ambler Johnston created an increased danger to the campus that day. We will discuss this matter with the attorney general, carefully review the case, and explore all of the options available.
The heinous crimes committed by Seung-Hui Cho were an unprecedented act of violence that no one could have foreseen. Virginia Tech has always and will continue to put the safety and well being of its students first. The extended Virginia Tech family, particularly those on campus that horrible day, will always remember and honor those we lost."