- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - More than 500 people sent emails to the University of Illinois after it decided not to keep James Kilgore as an instructor and before it went back on that decision and decided to rehire the former Symbionese Liberation Army member.

Some of the writers excused Kilgore’s crimes as youthful indiscretions. Those who wrote hoping he would never be rehired noted his felony conviction for his role in a 1975 bank robbery by the radical group that left a woman dead.

The News-Gazette in Champaign obtained copies of the emails through the Freedom of Information Act. The writers’ names were blacked out, as was some information in the text of the messages, the newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/1C4zeKy).

“If, in your youth, you ever did ANYTHING that you came to very much regret … if you’ve found yourself involved in activities that you thought were going one way but quickly got out of control … if you have ever had a moment when you looked at anything and said to yourself, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ then I respectfully suggest that you think long and hard about your judgment of Dr. Kilgore and his situation,” one person wrote.

“If you hire a convicted murderer, your reputation and donations rightfully (will) drop like a lazy student’s grade,” read another email.

The Symbionese Liberation Army is best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974.

Kilgore, who spent 27 years at large, served six years in prison for his role in the killing of housewife Myrna Opsahl during a 1975 bank robbery.

After his 2009 release from prison, Kilgore went to work as a part-time instructor at the Urbana-Champaign campus, where his wife is a faculty member. Last spring he was told he would lose that job, but that decision was later reversed.

Christopher Kennedy, who was chairman of the university Board of Trustees at the time, opposed continuing to employ Kilgore but said trustees decided his employment was a campus-level decision. Kennedy said the decision was influenced by turmoil on campus around both the Kilgore situation and the decision to pull back a job offered to professor Steven Salaita over profane, anti-Israel Twitter messages.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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