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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Clues sought at campus shooting

University of Arkansas grad student had been dropped before killings

August 30, 2000

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— An attache case found near the bodies of a professor and a graduate student killed in an apparent murder-suicide held 90 rounds of ammunition and a letter telling the student he had been kicked out of the graduate program.

The student, James Easton Kelly, 36, and English professor John Locke, 67, were found dead Monday, lying face-up on the floor of Locke's office at the University of Arkansas. Both had been shot in the abdomen with a .38-caliber revolver that Kelly bought at a pawn shop five years ago, university police Capt. Brad Bruns said.

The gun was found between the men; investigators worked Tuesday to find out who shot whom.

"We don't want to say it was one way and it turn out to be a different way, with the location of the gun and the two bodies. It was not obvious at the scene," university police Lt. Gary Crain said.

University police said few people were in danger as the men argued behind a locked door, but didn't know what to make of the extra ammunition found in the leather case.

"That is a lot of ammunition, but we have said no one else was targeted," Bruns said.

The case held 46 full metal jacket rounds and 44 hollow-point rounds for a .38-caliber revolver, a police report said. Also inside were five letters from the university to Kelly -- including one telling him he had been dropped from the graduate program in comparative literature.

A panel of six professors voted Aug. 21 to dismiss Kelly from the English department's doctoral program because he habitually dropped classes and made insufficient progress in 10 years as a graduate student. Locke, who was Kelly's faculty adviser, was on the committee but abstained from the vote.

The committee allowed Kelly to continue his studies as a non-degree student.

Professor Brian Wilkie recalled that in the mid-1990s Kelly bombed on an oral examination, stumbling through answers and failing to show mastery of required reading material.

"He didn't take his work very seriously," Wilkie said. "He never struck me as a sinister person, just not very motivated."

Wilkie said Kelly had been dropped from the program at least three times. Each time, until last week, the faculty had voted to reinstate him.

A woman enrolled in the school's graduate program in the 1990s said Kelly's performance was erratic.

"He wasn't ever quite on the same track as the rest of us as far as what he was supposed to do for class and coming to class," said Angie Albright, an assistant professor of English at Georgia Southwestern State. "He seemed nice enough, but distant all the time."

Police said Kelly had no criminal record and there was no indication on his university record of discipline problems.

But Locke apparently had some reservations: when Kelly recently scheduled a meeting with Locke, the professor was reluctant to meet in private, Wilkie said.

"He said he was going to have it in the department office, not his own office," Wilkie said. "I asked him if he (Kelly) seemed violent, and he said 'You never know."'

On Monday, the men could be heard arguing behind the locked door to Locke's office. Witnesses reported hearing three shots. When police entered, they found four empty shell casings in the gun.

A caller to 911 reported hearing a man he believed to be Locke say during the shooting, "I didn't do anything."

At Locke's home, police found a gun on a bed, a rifle elsewhere in the house and a will on the kitchen table, but don't believe they were connected to the shootings. Locke had moved to a different house during the weekend, Crain said.

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