Motive in Ark. Murder-Suicide Sought

Wednesday, August 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Police are hoping that autopsy reports will help unravel the mystery surrounding the shooting deaths of a professor and a student, an apparent murder-suicide.

The bodies of James Easton Kelly, 36, and English professor John Locke, 67, were found on the floor of Locke's office at the University of Arkansas. Both were shot in the abdomen with a .38-caliber revolver that Kelly bought at a pawn shop five years ago, police said.

An attache case found near them contained 90 rounds of ammunition and a letter telling the student he had been kicked out of the graduate program. A .38-caliber revolver also was found between them.

Investigators were still working 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 Tuesday.

Police would not identify the owner of the attache, which held 46 full metal jacket rounds and 44 hollow-point rounds for a .38-caliber revolver. 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.

Witnesses said they heard the men arguing Monday behind the locked door to Locke's office before three shots were heard.

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.

Locke was a strong advocate who supported the graduate student even when other professors gave up, members of the school's English department said Tuesday.

``John's attitude toward Kelly was one of long suffering tolerance and acceptance of the fact that Kelly wasn't going to come through with the attention and thoughtfulness given him,'' professor Brian Wilkie said.

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.

Angie Albright, who was 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 Albright, now an assistant professor of English at Georgia Southwestern State. ``He seemed nice enough, but distant all the time.''

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.

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


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