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Professor shares story of his 1955 murder case

Professor shares story of his 1955 murder case

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TUCSON (AP) — Two weeks after disclosing it for the first time to his University of Arizona superiors and administrators, a professor has told his students how he fatally shot a college classmate nearly 50 years ago.

Robert B. Bechtel, an environmental psychology professor at UA since 1976, said he's finally speaking about his past in an attempt to halt the culture of bullying.

"People don't understand how easy it is to destroy young lives. I didn't put it together for 40 years," said Bechtel, who is writing a book about his case.

At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in the mid-1950s, Bechtel was a 22-year-old student proctor charged with keeping dormitory students in line.

He said he faced constant taunts and bullying by some students.

On Jan. 12, 1955, Bechtel suddenly decided he'd had enough and that he had to take care of the problem. He brought a gun to the dormitory, intending to shoot the bullies.

Bechtel said he entered one dorm room and fatally shot 18-year-old Francis Holmes Strozier, one of those who had bullied him, then fired five shots into a hall closet.

He woke up another student and turned himself in to police.

While jailed for the shooting, Bechtel said a psychiatrist determined he was insane. A psychiatrist for the prosecution and a commission agreed, declaring him incurably insane.

He was ordered to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the rest of his life.

Bechtel stayed for nearly five years before another evaluation determined he could be released.

He was sent back to jail and stood trial for the murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity in January of 1960 and released.

Bechtel returned to school, studying at Susquehanna University and then the University of Kansas, where he received his doctorate in 1967.

When he applied at the UA, he said it didn't seem necessary to mention the shooting, nor was it required.

UA officials don't expect Bechtel will face any personnel actions because of the incident.

Some university officials and students said they were shocked that Bechtel could have killed somebody, but that speaking publicly about the shooting is courageous and could have an impact on bullying.

Information from: Arizona Daily Star,

— Arizona Daily Sun


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