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The road that leads to the isolated mountain town of Grundy, Va., is lined with yellow ribbons, broken hearts and prophecies. “Be careful of ‘anger,’” reads a hand-lettered sign in a convenience store along Highway 460, “it’s one letter away from ‘danger.’” A local restaurant’s marquee says simply, “God Bless Our Town.” L. Anthony Sutin drove this road over and over again, the only road from Washington, D.C, 400 miles to the east, before and after he decided to alter the course of his life, to slow his forward velocity, to set down roots in a place where the primary occupation is getting the hell out. Only here, among the shuttered storefronts, the steaming refineries and the sawed-off mountainsides, could anyone understand. You couldn’t look at a life like Tony Sutin’s two-dimensionally, trace his career path on a sheet of graph paper, mark X to Y to Z, and have it make a bit of sense. What made the least sense of all was how that path ended, how Tony Sutin took a chance on a dying town and how that decision cost him his life. How he died here, allegedly murdered by a student to whom he had reached out, in the dean’s office of a law school that didn’t exist a handful of years ago, in a place that, for most of his short life, he had never heard of. “He saw something in us that most of the people had never seen,” says Grundy’s town manager, Chuck Crabtree. “We were slowly dying. We gave up on ourselves. He gave up the ultimate job to come here — and take the ultimate job.” For Sutin, that job was the mission of providing legal education to rural Appalachia. To do it, he would make the kind of career move that would leave the ambitious inhabitants of Darwinian D.C. scratching their heads. He had been a partner at a major law firm and a high-ranking official of the Janet Reno Justice Department. He would surrender it all for Grundy. “The reason he died,” says Rob Sievers, a student at the Appalachian School of Law where Sutin taught and where he was killed last month, “is the reason we all loved him.” Signs lined Sutin’s daily path as well. An embroidered one that hung outside his office read “The dream shall never die.” That office is empty now, closed. “Out of Tony’s death, we as a community have to fulfill our dreams,” Crabtree says, “so that his death is not wasted.” Sutin’s legacy lives on both in and outside of Grundy. Kinney Zalesne, who worked with Sutin at the Justice Department, says that Sutin’s choice to leave his Washington insider’s life inspired her own decision to join College Summit, a nonprofit program aimed at increasing college enrollment among low-income students. “He was the one among lots of well-meaning Justice Department lawyers who made that dramatic change in his life in order to advance justice and education,” Zalesne says. “A lot of people talk about it, but Tony did it, and,” she adds, “at great personal sacrifice.” That sacrifice was remembered at a Feb. 11 memorial service at the Justice Department. Five hundred people were expected to attend. A NEW LIFE Tony Sutin’s life and death stands as one of those stories that bends credulity both ways. You can’t quite believe how he lived his life, and you can’t quite accept how it ended. It remains so thick with irony, tragedy and triumph that if not for yellow ribbons tied around every tree and pole in Grundy, if not for the red eyes and unsteady voices of his friends and colleagues, if not for the cloud of shock that hovers over this Virginia mountain town, you would dismiss it as dark fiction. But the cold-blooded facts are these. On Jan. 16, a 43-year-old Nigerian student named Peter Odighizuwa entered Dean Sutin’s office and allegedly shot him with a handgun three times. Odighizuwa, who had recently been expelled from the law school for the second time, then allegedly went to the office of another professor, Thomas Blackwell, and killed him as well. He walked down a flight of stairs toward the exit. On his way out, local authorities say, he shot three students. One, Angela Dales, a former admissions officer for the school turned aspiring lawyer, was killed. The other two survived. Three other students jumped on Odighizuwa and restrained him until the police arrived. Sutin was 42. He left behind his wife of more than 10 years, Margaret Lawton, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., and two children, Henry and Clara Li. Sutin and Lawton had just recently adopted 15-month-old Clara Li from China. Henry, 4, had been adopted as a Russian orphan. Sutin and Lawton were “soul mates, who built and grew because of their relationship,” says Kent Markus, Sutin’s long-time friend and law school roommate. They moved to Grundy in 1999. It was the start of a new life, away from Washington. Lawton, too, would join the faculty as a professor teaching trial practice. “They were ready for family,” says Lucius Ellsworth, president of the Appalachian School of Law. Paul Lund, an associate dean at the school and a close friend of Sutin and Lawton, remembers seeing Lawton with Clara Li in Sutin’s office the morning of the shooting. Lund then left campus and was gone when the shooting occurred. “I’m really glad that was the last time I did see him,” Lund says. “It was evident how happy he was. It was a picture of harmony and contentment. In a sense, it’s a mental snapshot for me. It will be something I try to carry.” Lund had been visited that same morning by Odighizuwa. But the troubled student had given Lund no sign of hostility. Lund wonders now why he was spared. THE FOUNDATION Sutin’s activism started early. A native of the south shore of Long Island, he attended Brandeis University. Soon, he was crusading to have the school restore an environmental studies program and was regularly protesting against nuclear power, primarily attending demonstrations at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. “He was very committed to the battle we were involved in,” says a Brandeis classmate, Steven Fischbach. “He cared about people, the environment, education.” Fischbach, who hadn’t spoken to Sutin since college, says wryly that both he and Sutin avoided being arrested while demonstrating. “Both of us were planning on going to law school,” says Fischbach, who now is a lawyer for Rhode Island Legal Services. “He was much more trustful of the system than I was. He thought he could work within it.” Sutin went on to Harvard Law School, where he roomed with Markus, who would become a close friend for the rest of Sutin’s life. Markus says Sutin was quiet, a humble man who could go 20 minutes in a group without talking and then let loose a wicked one-liner. “He was what I call ‘reliably selfless,’” says Markus, a deputy chief of staff to former Attorney General Reno and now a law professor in Columbus, Ohio. “It was the subject of teasing even then.” After graduating from Harvard cum laude in 1984, Sutin joined D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson, becoming an expert on election law and the law of reinsurance, while juggling a full plate of pro bono work on the side. Continually, however, he would take extended absences from the firm to work on Democratic political campaigns. It was on one such campaign, for Michael Dukakis, that he met Margaret Lawton. “He would leave for a few months, his candidate would lose, and he would come back,” says William Bowman, a partner at Hogan & Hartson. Bowman says that Sutin’s idealism was subtle. “He didn’t hit people over the head with it,” he says. “But he believed the law was more than the law. The law was a means of doing service.” The absences didn’t cost Sutin. Ultimately, he made partner. His future in Washington seemed assured. Then, Kent Markus called. He asked Sutin to join him at the Justice Department. Markus was part of a team charged with creating the COPS program. Sutin, intrigued with the idea of advocating community-oriented policing, left Hogan and came aboard as general counsel in 1994. “People at Hogan thought he was nuts,” Markus says. “He was going to be GC of some subcomponent of Justice that probably would be dissolved in a few years?” But Bowman says he was not surprised. “We always hoped he would come back to the firm,” he says. He never did. After rising in the ranks at Justice, and taking over the agency’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Sutin had a different move in mind. He wanted to go to Appalachia. A TOWN UNDERWATER The Appalachian School of Law was chartered in 1996 on a platform of community service. The idea was to train a new breed of leader who, instead of departing the economically parched land for better opportunities, would stay and contribute. Its students are required to put in 25 hours of community service, which includes work such as tutoring high school students. The residents of Grundy pushed hard for the school. They saw it as a form of economic resuscitation for their work-starved town. The surrounding coal industry had hit hard times. Its unemployment rate — more than 17 percent before the law school came to town — was among the highest in the state. “Our teachers used to teach us to get an education and get out of here,” town manager Crabtree says. The town offered use of a converted junior high and elementary school, situated a rock’s throw from the town center. Its efforts were rewarded. The first class entered the school in 1997. The school now has 170 students, a large portion of them from a five-state region of central Appalachia. Many of them are older students starting second careers. Sutin applied for an assistant professorship. The school jumped at him. Again, few could understand what Sutin was doing. Markus says his wife, a career academic, told Sutin that “this is the stupidest thing you could ever do, taking an assistant teaching position at an unaccredited law school.” “Of course, Tony took that advice and ignored it,” Markus recalls. “I’m not sure any of us knew with certainty why he was doing what he was doing. Tony was a guy who didn’t talk about Tony.” Sutin and Lawton packed up and moved to Grundy, a town of 1,300 largely blue-collar residents. Its origins are unclear. The town, a sign at its center boasts, “was probably named for Felix Grundy of Tennessee.” It lies so nestled in the mountains that it basically sits in a riverbed. Grundy is regularly flooded, most dramatically in 1977 when most of the downtown businesses closed up and never returned. But the town is in the midst of a staggeringly ambitious plan to reinvent itself. With the assistance of the federal and state governments, the town plans to blast the face of a mountain across the river from the town proper and create new real estate safely above the flood plain. A new Grundy will then be built on the resulting 13-acre site. This was the pitch that Tony Sutin heard — and believed. “People like Tony saw this and wanted to be a part of this,” says Crabtree, a lifetime Grundy resident. “These are exciting times for rural America.” Sutin soon became a respected professor of constitutional law. He was voted best professor by the students during his first two years. Rather than inflict the Socratic method on his students, he preferred to designate “wizards” in his class to lead the day’s discussions. He thought it helped build confidence. He became a fixture in the mornings on Walnut Street, a sliver of asphalt across the creek from the law school, walking his dog and wearing a large pair of yellow headphones. Sutin cleaned up after the dog as if he were still living in Washington, D.C. In 2000, Sutin was asked to take over the dean’s position of the school. He had misgivings. Administration had never been his goal, and he worried his commitment to teaching would suffer. But he wanted to help the school with its most pressing problem: accreditation by the American Bar Association. The school had failed in its first attempt in 1999. Sutin took over the process. In March 2001, Sutin and Ellsworth traveled to Arizona to make a presentation to an accreditation committee. “I was generally impressed with him as a person,” says Sara Davies, a member of the committee. “Any time a person shows that passion, you remember that.” It worked. The ABA approved their bid — something rare for such a young law school. “There would have been 100 ways to fail to gain accreditation. And he was successful,” Hogan & Hartson’s Bowman says proudly. Sutin was best known at the school for his accessibility. He was famous for leaving the back door to his dean’s office open throughout the day. “They say that most deans are four doors deep,” says Sievers, president of the school’s Student Bar Association. “He was a half-door deep.” It was Sutin who helped arrange Sievers’ upcoming federal clerkship. THE OUTSIDER But Sutin was less successful at helping Peter Odighizuwa, or “Peter O” as he was called by his classmates. Like Sutin, Odighizuwa was an outsider, drawn by the promise of the law school. He had moved from Chicago after reading about the school on the Internet. He was older, a longtime cab driver, one of two Nigerians in the school, the father of four children and an unlikely member of the Grundy community. Yet the town, by several accounts, tried to help him. Sutin lent Odighizuwa money on several occasions. Other people donated furniture and other goods. “He was just peculiar,” says Sievers. “I don’t think he understood the magnitude of the hurdles he was facing. He had four small children. He was digging a hole that just got deeper.” Odighizuwa struggled with his grades. He was forced to repeat his first year. And Sievers says he began to grow paranoid. He insisted that Sievers accompany him to all meetings with faculty as a witness, Sievers says. And he wanted copies of all documents. Still, Sievers says he doesn’t understand Odighizuwa’s anger. “It makes no sense,” he says. “They bent over backward for him. Especially the people whose lives he took.” Odighizuwa now sits in a jail cell near Roanoke. The deputy sheriff here says the move was made not because of community rage, but because the local jail is overcrowded with local citizens detained on drug charges. Odighizuwa’s court-appointed lawyer, James Turk of Radford, Va., last week asked the court to appoint a forensic psychiatrist to examine Odighizuwa, who told reporters at his arraignment that he “needed help.” Those at the law school who say that Odighizuwa knew what he was doing when he allegedly went on his violent rampage fear he will escape punishment through an insanity defense. Turk says he also plans on asking that Odighizuwa’s trial be moved out of Grundy and Buchanan County. Meanwhile, life goes on at the law school. The students have returned, with many having to deal with their memories of the bloodshed. Rob Sievers, who says Sutin was his role model, won’t talk specifically about that day of the shootings. All he will say is that he was on the second floor of the school — where Sutin’s office was located. “I’ve witnessed what I hope no one ever has to witness,” he says.

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