School Accused of Covering Up Student's Murder

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Despite believing that Laura Dickinson had been raped and murdered in her dorm room, administrators at Eastern Michigan University took 10 weeks to tell her parents and university students and staff the truth.

In failing to tell the young woman's family, school safety experts say, the university acted immorally. But in failing to tell Dickinson's fellow students, campus law experts say, the university acted illegally.

On Dec. 16, 2006, the university sent a release out to students and faculty telling them the 22-year-old nutrition major had died but there was "no reason to suspect foul play."

By the time the university released its statement, Dickinson had been dead for four days. After neighbors complained of an odor, a janitor found Dickinson in her room naked, a pillow covering her head, with traces of semen on her leg.

Dickinson's body was found after her family told university officials she had not returned several phone calls.

"I called her on Wednesday and there was no answer," Dickinson's father, Bob Dickinson, told "Good Morning America" today.

Then Bob and her mother, Deb Dickinson, received the news.

"It was pretty devastating," Bob said. "I don't know if there's a gentle way to say that."

The official word from Eastern Michigan University was that Laura had died of natural causes, that somehow the healthy 22-year-old had been killed by a freak accident.

"They said there was no evidence of foul play," Deb said.

It would be 10 weeks before the full story came out. On Feb. 23, Eastern Michigan student Orange Taylor III was arrested. This was how her fellow students — and her family — learned she had been killed. Taylor has pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled to go on trial for murder in October.

"For 10 weeks we wondered how a healthy 22-year-old girl had died. Now we know that it wasn't just a flukey odd accident. Something had definitely happened and they lied about it," Bob told ABCNEWS.com.

Taylor, 20, faces trial Oct. 15 on murder and criminal sexual conduct charges.

University administrators, including university president John Fallon, would not comment for this story to ABCNEWS.com.

Fallon issued a statement Tuesday to the Board of Regents concerning the handling of information in the case. "I apologized to you and say … never again will such a confounding series of mistakes be made on my watch," Fallon said.

A Delicate Balance

Dickinson's murder, like the massacre at Virginia Tech in April, sheds light on the delicate balance universities must strike between protecting individual's privacy and protecting the public's safety.

Though the school took proper measures to alert the police, it violated federal law by not informing the school's students, school safety advocates say.

Under the Clery Act, universities are required by federal law to inform students of all crimes that have occurred on or near the campus that post a potential threat to public safety.

"The university lied to the community and they lied to this young woman's family," said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of the watchdog group Security on Campus.

"This is an absolute betrayal of trust," he told ABCNEWS.com. [The Clery Act] is the first step in keeping college campuses safe. It forces colleges to acknowledge security threats and warn the community so students can protect themselves."

Passed in 1990, the law was named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her college dorm in 1986.

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