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A memorial of 32 granite blocks representing each of the people killed by Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Attorneys for the parents of two students slain in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre will ask the state Supreme Court to put the college's retiring president on trial, while the state will ask the court to reverse a jury's finding that it was negligent in the students' deaths.
The opposing requests have been combined in a consolidated appeal that will go before the court Thursday.
Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson were among 32 students and faculty killed by student gunman Seung-Hui Cho on April 16, 2007, on the Blacksburg campus -- the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The shooter committed suicide.
In March 2012, a jury ruled the state was negligent and awarded the parents of Pryde and Peterson $4 million each, but a judge later reduced that to the cap on damages against the state to $100,000 each. School President Charles Steger was dismissed from the case before the trial began in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg.
The trial focused on the university's response time between the first two shootings at a dorm and the killing of 30 more at Norris Hall, a classroom building where Peterson and Pryde were among the dead.
Jurors found the state negligent for delaying two hours after the first shootings before alerting the wider campus. By the time the warning had gone out, Cho had chained shut the doors to Norris Hall and completed his shooting rampage.
While neither the state nor attorneys for the families wanted to discuss the specifics of their arguments, briefs filed with the court cite previous arguments by both sides.
Attorneys for the Prydes and the Petersons contend the university had an obligation to alert the campus of the first shootings, while the state argues that law enforcement investigators at the scene of the first shootings concluded the gunman had posed no further threat. Witnesses at the wrongful death trial testified that police investigators concluded the first shootings were likely targeted and the result of a domestic dispute.
The state argues additionally that the university had no obligation to warn of the criminal acts of a third party and that there was no imminent probability of further harm.
Steger was among other university officials first named in the wrongful death suit. He was excluded, however, because the families filed suit in another jurisdiction and a judge dismissed him from the later filing. The judge cited a law that prevents individuals from being named in a separate case that was dismissed.
The parents' trial attorney, Robert T. Hall, has argued that the “buck stops” with Steger and he should have acted earlier to notify the campus of the first two shootings.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, Virginia's public university and community college presidents argue Steger should have immunity from any civil action stemming from the massacre.
The Prydes and the Petersons refused to join in an $11 million settlement that went to most of the families of the 32 slain by Cho.
Justices typically issue a ruling within two months of arguments.