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Defense likely to rest in Virginia Tech shooting trial

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. >> The state was expected to rest Tuesday after presenting witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit who said Virginia Tech officials acted properly on April 16, 2007, when a lone gunman killed 32 on the Blacksburg campus and then himself.

Attorneys for the state, the lone defendant in the civil trial, presented only a fraction of the 50 potential witnesses they listed in court filings. Several more were to testify before attorneys for the parents of two students slain in the attacks present a rebuttal witness.

The defense on Monday called to the stand Virginia Tech officials, police and experts on campus security who all agreed that campus police and school administrators did the right thing when they concluded the first two shootings were domestic and isolated. As a result, they delayed alerting students and faculty on campus because they believed the dorm attack was targeted and the gunman did not pose a threat to the wider campus.

Less than three hours later, Seung-Hui Cho chained the doors to Norris Hall and killed 30 students and faculty in the classroom building. He then killed himself.

University officials have said there was no way to anticipate the deadliest campus shootings in modern U.S. history.

The parents of students Karen W. Pryde and Erin Nicole Peterson disagree. They persisted in bringing the lawsuit because they believe their daughters would have survived Cho’s attack if the campus had known of the first two shootings, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of both victims.

Attorneys for the parents, who are each seeking $100,000, also contend President Charles W. Steger and other university officials attempted to cover their missteps. They have denied that.

Attorneys are expected to battle over instructions to the jurors who heard the case, which began March 5. The issue involves what threat level university officials should have heeded on the morning of April 16 in alerting the campus — imminent or foreseeable.

A state panel that investigated the shootings concluded that officials erred in not sending an alert earlier. The lag in issuing a campus warning also brought Virginia Tech a $55,000 fine from the U.S. Education Department. The school is appealing.

The Prydes and the Petersons were the only eligible families who didn’t accept their share of an $11 million state settlement.

While the damages are capped at $100,000, jurors will not be told of the cap before they begin their deliberations.

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