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Va. court overturns verdict against state in massacre on Virginia Tech campus

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By The Washington Post
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

The Virginia Supreme Court has overturned a jury verdict in the wrongful-death suit filed against the state by the families of two students who were killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

In a decision released on Thursday, the justices wrote that “there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts” by student-gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

Jurors in Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled last year that the state was negligent in the deaths of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, two of the 32 people killed by Cho on the Blacksburg campus. The jury panel awarded the parents of Pryde and Peterson $4 million each, although the amount later was reduced to $100,000 per family.

Harry Pryde, whose daughter Julia was killed in her advanced-hydrology class on the second floor of Norris Hall on April 16, 2007, said Thursday that the families are “deeply saddened that the court was so dismissive of assigning responsibility and was so protective of the commonwealth.”

The lawsuit focused on accountability, not money, Pryde said in a telephone interview.

“We still take a good measure of satisfaction that the jury listened to all of the evidence and decided as it did,” he said. “We don't feel at all that the Supreme Court can take that away from us.”

Brian Gottstein, director of communications for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, said the court's ruling affirmed the state's position.

“While words cannot express the tremendous sympathy we have for the families who lost their loved ones in the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007 — including the Prydes and the Petersons — the Virginia Supreme Court has found what we have said all along to be true: The commonwealth and its officials at Virginia Tech were not negligent on April 16, 2007,” Gottstein said in a statement. “Cho was the lone person responsible for this tragedy.”

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