Did a 'toxic work environment' at Missouri State lead to the murder of Marc Cooper?
It's been long established that ex-Missouri State instructor Edward Gutting angrily invaded the home of former MSU colleague Marc Cooper in 2016, stabbing the retired history professor to death and injuring his wife.
Seven years, several delays and a few mental evaluations later, the 50-year-old Princeton University graduate sat in court Tuesday, the second day of a first-degree murder trial that won't be decided by a jury.
Greene County Judge David Jones will determine if Gutting made a premediated decision to slay Cooper over a perceived work-related slight, or if the accused killer had a mental health episode — a defense that could shave a few years from a lengthy prison sentence.
Prosecutors believe Gutting, who was passed over for a tenured MSU history professor, killed the 66-year-old man in a drunken fit after driving miles across Springfield with a knife to confront the Cooper at his home. The attack happened shortly after Gutting had learned he wouldn't step into Cooper's former role, as Gutting believed Cooper thwarted his chances.
Gutting's legal defense claims he had a schizophrenic episode and the violent act by a 6-foot-5, 225-pound figure several MSU coworkers considered a "gentle giant" was an aberration. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
On Tuesday, prosecuting attorney Dan Patterson presented several more state witnesses in attempt to prove Gutting was ultimately in control of his actions the day of the stabbing and had issue with Cooper. Three of the witnesses worked in the in the MSU history department.
A recorded jail phone conversation between Gutting and relatives was also presented to the court to help convey his apparent lucidity in the days following Cooper's death.
'Toxic work environment'
MSU history department employees Dr. Kathleen Kennedy (department head) and Dr. John Chuckiak (distinguished professor) took the witness stand Tuesday, as well as Peter Tsahiridis, a former MSU per-course history instructor at MSU.
Each described Gutting, a history instructor, as generally kind, soft-spoken and helpful in their work interactions. Each had differing views of Cooper and how he may or may not have had a role in determining if Gutting would take his former position, despite being retired and in an emeritus role.
Chuckiak said the MSU history department was "one of the most toxic department's on Missouri State's campus" and that Cooper was a big part of the toxicity. Kennedy also mentioned unpleasant work-related politics and clashing factions within the department, but she considered Cooper a mentor and friend. Tsahiridis said he respected Cooper, but said he had "difficult personality."
Patterson used their testimony to try and paint the prosecution's picture of Cooper slighting the work of Gutting, whose wife Dr. Angela Hornsby-Gutting also worked in the history department and is still listed on the MSU website's faculty page as an associate professor.
Defense attorney Joe Passanise reminded the court that Gutting got a salary increase in 2016 and a new position at MSU in the Modern and Classical Languages away from the history department, and that was no apparent disagreement between Gutting and Cooper, who worked together for three years before his February 2015 retirement.
But Chuckiak said it was clear that Gutting wanted the tenured Ancient History history position, and once heard that Cooper say in a conversation Gutting wasn't qualified for the job because he viewed him as a classicist, someone who studies the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, especially their languages, literature, and philosophy.
Tsahiridis said on the stand Tuesday that he twice saw Gutting show visible frustrations on campus from situations he believed involved Cooper.
Chuckiak, who said he often clashed with Cooper and filed several complaints against the longtime educator, told the court he sympathized with Gutting after hearing news of Cooper's death, and initially reached out to Gutting's legal team to help shed light on the situation.
As the prosecution team's witness, however, Chuckiak was used to help prove that an immense sense of disrespect may have been felt by Gutting leading up to Cooper's murder, and that it wasn't the product of a random mental breakdown.
In the opening argument by the prosecution, Patterson mentioned that Gutting told a state witness that "(Cooper) better respect me!"
On the day Cooper was killed, Angela Hornsby-Gutting received an email that showed a change in the job description for the vacant Ancient History position, which cut out Rome from the position's area of study. The news apparently set off Gutting, who Hornsby-Gutting police said tried to stop her husband from confronting Cooper before showing up to his home with a knife and intoxicated.
Without Rome, an area of expertise for Gutting, he was suddenly disqualified for consideration. Chuckiak also considered the change peculiar considering Rome was a major part ancient history.
Kennedy, who gave Gutting satisfactory marks but also mentioned his "drug issues," said the decision, to cut out Rome was hers, not Cooper's, and that the board voted to approve the curriculum change.
Jail call provides clarity
Gutting pleaded insanity following his first-degree murder charge, but shortly after he was arraigned his jail phone conversation with relatives was recorded.
In audio provided the court, Gutting sounded clear, upbeat, thoughtful and articulate in the 15-minute conversation, discussing his options for a legal defense, bond and getting a new pair of eyeglasses.
The prosecution said Monday that Gutting may have also been feeling pressure in his personal life with financial and marital problems when he said in the phone call that he and his wife had just $86 in their bank account the day he was arrested.
Defense pushing for a mistrial
Two days into what will likely be a one-week trial, Gutting's defense has requested three mistrials that have been denied by Judge Jones.
Passanise has cited receiving late evidence and witnesses in which he had no access to prior to the trial among the reasons he believed a Harris should call for a mistrial, calling it a "trial by ambush, to some degree."
The defense attorney said he was frustrated by the prosecution's late disclosures and opinions.
"It's been seven years, and here we are in trial, and these things are being presented last minute."
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: 'Toxic work environment' may have fueled ex-MSU professor's murder