Virginia Tech lawsuit aimed at president to be heard by state Supreme Court

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - In a reversal, the state Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments that Virginia Tech's president should be put on trial for his actions during the 2007 campus massacre.

Attorneys for the families of two students who were among the 32 killed on April 16 that year want President Charles Steger to be held accountable for delaying alerting the Blacksburg campus of the first two shootings by student-gunman Seung-Hui Cho. He killed himself after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The court did not explain its decision after it rejected the parents' appeal in late February. The reversal was issued Thursday.

The justices already have agreed to hear the state's appeal of a negligence verdict, reached in March 2012 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Jurors awarded the parents of Erin Nicole Peterson and Julian K. Pryde $4 million each, but a judge later reduced that to the cap on damages against the state to $100,000 each.

The state was the lone defendant in the trial.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the consolidated appeal in June.

Steger was initially named in the parents' lawsuit but was exempted by a judge before trial on a legal technicality.

An attorney for the parents said Friday the decision to delay warning the entire campus of the first two deadly dorm shootings ultimately rested with Steger after he had heard from investigators at the scene. Hours later, Cho and 29 students and faculty were dead at Norris Hall, a classroom building. The victims included Pryde and Peterson.

"The buck stops at the top," said Robert T. Hall, the parents' attorney. He called the reversal by the court "a significant milestone in the case."

Steger and other university officials have said they based their decision to delay the campus-wide warning because investigators at the dorm believed the victims were targeted and that the gunman, while still at large, did not pose a threat to the wider campus.

In a statement, the Virginia Attorney General's office said: "Both the commonwealth and Dr. Steger continue to believe in their legal positions and will present those arguments to the full court at the appropriate time."