CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The mother of a former Marshall University student and football player who was shot to death in 2008 isn't entitled to compensation for her son's unpaid student loans, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Friday.
Donte Newsome was shot outside a Huntington nightclub in 2008. A Charleston man was convicted in 2010 of voluntary manslaughter and other charges in the shooting and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After Newsome's death, his mother, Angela Y. Smith, filed for compensation for medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and the unpaid student loans from the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
Although she received money for medical expenses and funeral costs, the fund did not give her anything to help pay off her dead son's student loans. The state Court of Claims denied her request, as well, and she appealed the decision to the Supreme Court last year.
Smith's lawyer, Mark McMillian of Charleston, argued that unpaid student loans are an "economic loss" that the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund usually reimburses. They argued that unpaid student loans fell under the "lost scholarship" category of "economic loss," which includes "other monetary scholastic assistance" listed in West Virginia law.
Smith argued that the term "lost scholarship" is vague and that the Legislature probably intended "lost scholarship" to encompass all forms of financial assistance, including student loans.
The Court of Claims had argued that the statue for "other monetary scholastic assistance" included merit-based academic or athletic scholarships, but not student loans, because they include a contractual obligation to repay a debt.
The Supreme Court rejected that argument and cited Marshall's and West Virginia University's financial aid websites as including student loans as part of financial aid packages.
"In the context of financial aid for college, the general and ordinary meaning of 'monetary scholastic assistance' encompasses student loans," Justice Allen Loughry wrote in the decision.
However, Loughry wrote, the Crime Victims Compensation Fund must only compensate economic loss when the victim has been unable to receive or use the lost scholarship because of an injury.
Newsome already had benefited from the educational opportunities provided by the student loans, the justices decided, so Smith could not claim the unpaid student loans as "lost scholarship" subject to reimbursement.
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