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May 4, 1970, Four Kent State University Students Killed By Ohio National Guard - Today In Crime History
On this date, May 4, in the year 1970, four students were killed and nine others wounded when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire during a Vietnam War protest. Approximately 67 shots were fired by the guardsmen over thirteen seconds. Jeffrey Glenn Miller, age 20, was shot through the mouth and killed instantly. Allison B. Krause, age 19,was shot in the chest and died later that day. William Knox Schroeder, age 19, was also shot in the chest and died almost an hour later in a hospital while undergoing surgery. Sandra Lee Scheuer, age 20, was shot in her neck and died within a few minutes from loss of blood. Among the wounded was Dean R. Kahler, who was shot in the back, causing permanent paralysis from the chest down. All of those killed or wounded were unarmed.
During the 1968 U.S. presidential campaign, candidate Richard Nixon ran on a platform that promised "peace with honor" for the Vietnam War. After his election, however, on April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced during a televised speech to the nation that American forces had invaded Cambodia. Many Americans saw this new invasion as an expansion or lengthening of the Vietnam War. In response to Nixon's announcement of the invasion of Cambodia, students across the United States began to protest.
Protests by students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio began on May 1, 1970. At noon, students held a protest rally on campus and later that night rioters built a bonfire and threw beer bottles at police off campus. The mayor declared a state of emergency and the governor sent in the Ohio National Guard.
On May 2, 1970, during a protest near the ROTC building on campus, someone set fire to the abandoned building. The National Guard entered the campus and used tear gas to control the crowd. During the evening of May 3, 1970, another protest rally was held on campus which was again dispersed by the National Guard.
All of these protests led up to the deadly interaction between Kent State students and the National Guard. On May 4, 1970, another student rally was scheduled for noon at the Commons on the Kent State University campus. Before the rally began, the National Guard ordered those congregated to disperse. The students refused to leave and the National Guard attempted to use tear gas on the crowd. Because of shifting winds, the tear gas was ineffective. The National Guard then advanced upon the crowd, with bayonets attached to their rifles, causing the crowd to scatter. After dispersing the crowd, the National Guardsmen stood around for about ten minutes and then turned around and began to retrace their steps.
For an unknown reason, during their retreat, the National Guardsmen suddenly turned around and began firing at the still scattered students. In 13 seconds, 67 bullets were fired. Some claim that there was a verbal order to fire. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded. Some of the students who were shot were not even part of the rally, but were just walking to their next class. The immediate impact of the shootings was dramatic and triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. The events of May 4, 1970 soon became known as the Kent State Massacre.
Kent State Tragedy Video
Despite pressure to convene a special federal grand jury to investigate the actions of the Ohio National Guard, U.S. Attorney General George Mitchell closed his investigation of the shootings in August 1971. Under immense pressure, however, the U.S. Department of Justice reopened an investigation in August 1973 and a special federal grand jury was impaneled to investigated the shootings.
On March 29, 1974, the grand jury indicted eight of the Ohio guardsmen. They were technically charged with violating the civil rights of the killed and wounded students. The indictment stated all eight guardsmen fired in the direction of demonstrators. Five of the guardsmen were accused of firing the shots - from M-1 rifles - that resulted in the deaths.
On October 21, 1974 the federal trial of the eight former National Guardsmen began in Cleveland before U.S. District Court Judge Frank J. Battisti. During the trial, the Justice Department presented 33 witnesses and 130 exhibits - mostly photographs of the events that led to the shooting of the unarmed students. The 12-member jury actually visited the Kent State campus where it heard simulated gunshots at the scene. The criminal defense attorneys for the accused guardsmen contended that they fired in self-defense. The criminal defense lawyers also argued there was insufficient evidence to convict their clients and urged the Judge to dismiss the criminal charges.
On November 8, 1974, Judge Battisti agreed with the criminal defense attorneys and acquitted all of the former guardsmen. Battisti ruled that the prosecutors had failed to prove charges that the guardsmen willfully intended to deprive the students killed and wounded of their civil rights. "At best, the evidence...would support a finding that the amount of force .... was excessive and unjustified," Battisti said. The jury was not permitted to reach a verdict because the Judge ruled that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain a criminal conviction.
To this date, not one person has ever been held criminally liable for the shootings of those Kent State University Students on May 4, 1970.
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