The eight-year legal battle over the 1970 Kent State University shootings apparently ended here today when the State Controlling Board, meeting in Columbus, agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement of $675,000 to nine wounded students and the parents of four who were slain by Ohio National Guardsmen.
An additional $50,000 is allocated to pay for the plaintiffs' legal fees, and $25,000 for out-of-pocket expenses.
Shortly after the board voted 6 to 1 to release the money, U.S. District Court Judge William K. Thomas dismissed the jury here that was to have heard testimony in a second trial in the suit against the state, brought by the parents of the victims of 13 seconds of gunfire on hundreds of students demonstrating in 1970 against an expansion of the war in Vietnam.
A key to the settlement was a carefully worded statement, sought by the plaintiffs, that would appear to be an apology by the defendants, including Gov. James A. Rhodes, for the tragedy on the KSU campus.
The three-paragraph statement, read in court by Thomas, said, "In retrospect, the tragedy of May 4, 1970, should not have occurred."
It noted that the students protesting the Cambodian incursion by U.S. troops "may have believed they were right" in continuing their protests in spite of a university ban on rallies and an order for the students to disperse.
It further noted, however, that these orders had been upheld as "lawful" by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The statement continued:
"Some of the guardsmen on Blanket Hill [the campus area where the violence occurred], feraful and anxious from prior events, may have believed in their own minds that their lives were in danger. Hindsight suggests that another method would have resoved the confrontation. Better ways must be found to deal with such confrontations.
"We devoutly wish that a means had been found to avoid the May 4 events culminating in the Guard shootings and the irreversible deaths and injuries. We deeply regret those events, and are profoundly saddened by the deaths of four students and wounding of nine others which resulted. We hope that the agreement to end this litigation will heop assuage the tragic memories regarding that sad day."
Ohio Attorney General William J. Brown, whose office served as counsel for the National Guard, said the monetary settlement and statement were the moslt practical way to end the litigation and to put the university back on a positive course.
"We've spent thousands of dollars on this litigation over the past 8 1/2 years, and I'm glad it's over," Brown said. "It would have gone on for the next generation, and the damage to Kent State University can now be reversed."
He added: "From a monetary point of view, the state of Ohio did the right thing."
Brown said the settlement had nothing to do with the merits of the case -- "We won that the first itme."
He was referring to an earlier trial in 1975, in which a federal jury cleared Rhodes and 27 Grardsmen of any liability in the $46-million damage suit fild by the plaintiffs.
On Sept. 12, 1977, however, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial. It ruled that the trial judge had mishandled reports of a threat to a juror -- a ruling later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under today's agreement, Dean Kahler, paralyzed by gunshot wounds suffered in the confrontation, will get $350,000. The eight other wounded students will get from $15,000 to $42,500. And the families of the slain students each will receive $15,000.
"It doesn't matter to me one way or another," said the mother of one of the slain students, who did not wish to be identified. "Do you think I'm going to give it away if I get it."
The wording of the statement drew different interpretations from the two sides in the suit.
Sanford Rosen, the plaintiffs' chief lawyer, said he considered the statement an apology.
But Sylvester DelCorso, who was Ohio's adjutant general and head of the National Guard in 1970, reacted otherwise.
"No, there was no apology," he said. "We expressed sorrow and regret, the same way you express condolences to a friend."
Thomas Moyer, Rhodes' top assistant, said the governor was "very pleased at the Controlling Board action. He realizes that all parties agree it is a fair settlement."
The only Controlling Board member to oppose the settlement was state Rep. Robert Zetzlley, a conservative Republican.
Netzley said the board succumbed to blackmail and was paying tribute to the protesters.