Ex-San Diego State Student Pleads Guilty to Murdering 3 Professors


In exchange for the prosecution dropping a death penalty request, a former engineering graduate student at San Diego State pleaded guilty Tuesday to murdering three professors in August.

Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, will be given three consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Aug. 1, under a deal struck with prosecutors.

Davidson gunned down professors Chen Liang, 32, D. Preston Lowrey III, 44, and Costas Lyrintzis, 36, in a laboratory on campus just as he was to begin the defense of his master’s thesis.


“He believed the entire [engineering] department and a number of employers entered into a conspiracy against him,” defense attorney Kate Coyne told reporters. “My client is totally remorseful that the shooting occurred, but he still feels the conspiracy existed.”

In making a bargain with Davidson, the district attorney’s office broke its policy of never dropping a death penalty request in exchange for a guilty plea from a murder defendant.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Rick Clabby said the decision was made in deference to the professors’ widows who, while still wishing that Davidson be put to death, did not want their children to endure the years of appeals that are common in death penalty cases.

“The bottom line is: These folks want to go on with their lives,” Clabby said. “These kids need a mom because they don’t have a dad.”

All three widows attended the brief hearing before Superior Court Judge William Mudd but declined to talk to reporters. Adding to the Lowrey family’s tragedy, on Feb. 8, his 8-year-old daughter, Nina Marie, was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street.

Davidson believed that the professors were conspiring to reject his master’s degree thesis and keep him from finding work in the engineering field. Coyne said her client suffers delusions and paranoia and has a family history of psychosis.


“I never had a meeting with my client where he did not weep and wish to exchange his own life for the lives he took,” Coyne said.

Liang was Davidson’s major professor and had supervised his studies and work for several years. Coyne said Liang was Davidson’s primary target during the rampage.

Davidson shot the three professors with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic gun that he had hidden in a first-aid kit in the laboratory where the thesis defense was to take place. Firing 23 shots at the three professors, Davidson spared the lives of three students who were serving as witnesses to the thesis examination.

Davidson was arrested within minutes of the Aug. 15 shooting, wandering the hall outside the laboratory, sobbing. He quickly confessed to police.

A taciturn Army veteran, Davidson had worked on his master’s thesis about “smart metal alloys” for two years while employed part time in the engineering department. He lived in a rented room near campus and reportedly brooded over a feeling of being exploited.

The shootings traumatized the sun-bleached campus on Montezuma Mesa in San Diego’s eastern edge. At a memorial service, University President Stephen Weber eulogized the three professors as “among the best and strongest strands in our human rope.”

Times correspondent Paul Levikow contributed to this story.