ST. LOUIS (AP) — An aspiring rapper freed from prison after his conviction of attempting to threaten a murderous rampage got tossed out said Thursday he’s ready to put the six-year legal saga over free speech behind him now that the Illinois Supreme Court won’t intervene.
The state’s high court decided without comment Wednesday not to hear an appeal by prosecutors who sought to restore the Madison County jury verdict against Olutosin Oduwole, who was sentenced to five years after being convicted in 2011 of trying to make a terroristic threat.
Oduwole, 27, was released in March after Illinois’ 5th District Appellate Court threw out the conviction, ruling prosecutors failed to prove Oduwole actively tried to convey a threat through a questioned slip of paper found in 2007 in his abandoned car at the college he was attending in Edwardsville, Ill., northeast of St. Louis.
Illinois’ attorney general asked Illinois’ high court to take up the matter, arguing on behalf of Madison County prosecutors that the appellate court overstepped. But the Supreme Court took a pass, and Madison County’s state’s attorney, Tom Gibbons, announced Thursday no further appeals were planned.
“I’m very pleased — ecstatic — that the situation has been laid to rest and I can finally go forward without this hanging over my head,” Oduwole told The Associated Press by telephone from the Chicago area. “Happy is an understatement.”
“I’m not angry, not bitter,” he added. “After all the hearings, all the motions, I was just hoping it’d come to the point it is now.”
Calling Wednesday’s development disappointing, Gibbons was unapologetic for pursuing reinstatement of Oduwole’s conviction, saying he stands by the jurors “who determined that the defendant was indeed a threat to the residents of Madison County.”
“I was hopeful that the Illinois Supreme Court would have granted us the opportunity to explain the importance of this case in regards to keeping our community safe,” Gibbons said in a statement, noting that Oduwole still remained a felon after pleading guilty in late 2011 to computer fraud and theft.
Oduwole said he soon plans to move back to New Jersey, where his father lives, and attend college summer classes for which he already has registered, hoping to close out his business administration degree interrupted by his legal troubles and time in lockup. He anticipates attending graduate school and perhaps launching an independent music label, maintaining that “I’m still a rapper.”
It’s that very interest that derailed his life.
Oduwole was attending Southern Illinois University’s 13,000-student Edwardsville campus in July 2007 when campus police found a piece of paper in his abandoned car, which they had impounded.
The writing demanded payment to a PayPal account, warning “if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next seven 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, which just months earlier had left 32 people dead along with the gunman, the writing did not make any direct reference to targeting the Edwardsville campus.
Oduwole countered through attorneys that the “note” was merely scrap paper with private thoughts, the beginning of a song, never meant to be made public or shared. The appellate court ultimately found it couldn’t dispute that and threw out the conviction.
“It was pieces of a rap song that was discarded — just something written, forgotten about, crumpled up and thrown away,” Oduwole said Thursday of the questioned writings he said were “just taken out of context” by prosecutors. “It became just a lot of frustration, irritation that the prosecution was so hell-bent on creating hysteria and making something out of nothing.”
“This concludes the six-year frivolous prosecution of an utterly innocent young man,” added Oduwole’s attorney, Jeffrey Urdangen. “This has represented the worst possible abuse of prosecutorial authority.”
Oduwole said he’s learned a lesson: Words — rap lyrics or otherwise — have power.
“I still continue to make music,” he said. “But now I’m a bit more aware of what I’m writing and making sure everything stays away from violence” themes.