Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Dorm-fire charges may be dismissed

By Kristin Hill
The Associated Press

        Four months after a jury could not reach a unanimous decision in the murder and arson trial stemming from a fatal Murray State University dormitory fire, the prosecutor said he will ask to have the charges dismissed.

        Special prosecutor Jay Wethington planned to make his request by mail to Calloway County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Foust, Mr. Wethington said Tuesday.

        Mr. Wethington is asking that the charges against Jerry Wayne Walker be dismissed without prejudice. That means the charges could be brought again, but Mr. Wethington and Mr. Walker's attorney said most likely that would require new evidence.

        “I spoke to many of the jurors, who indicated they were unable to decide, despite the circumstantial evidence,” Mr. Wethington said. “And the defense did a very good job of playing to the jury the problems of the Kentucky State Police and Kentucky state fire marshal office. They were not working together as they should be.”

        Mr. Walker, 25, of Mayfield, was charged with arson, murder and assault in the fire that killed one student and seriously injured another. Initially, seven people with ties to the Murray State rugby team were charged in connection with the fire that broke out in the early morning of Sept. 18, 1998, in Hester Hall. Those felony charges were dropped, and Mr. Walker eventually was charged.

        Mr. Wethington said he spoke with Gail Minger of Niceville, Fla., whose 19-year-old son, Michael, was killed in the fire. The prosecutor said he delayed his decision on a retrial until the family had a chance to deal with the mistrial.

        Gail Minger said in a telephone interview Tuesday that she was disappointed in the outcome of the trial and the investigation of the fire.

        “I understand why they made the decision they had to make, but it still doesn't detract from my sadness and disbelief how agencies that are supposed to solve crimes fight over who would be the head agency instead of coming together, working together for the good of the people,” she said.

        At Mr. Walker's trial, Mr. Wethington produced six anonymous letters that Mr. Walker acknowledged he had written, including one letter blaming another student and another sent to Michael Priddy, who was seriously injured in the fire.

        Surveillance photos and a receipt showed that Mr. Walker bought about $1 worth of gasoline about 30 minutes before the blaze began at 2:38 a.m. The fire was started by gasoline, arson investigators testified. The defense claimed the gas was for Mr. Walker's car.

        Mr. Walker's lawyer, Dennis Null, said after an 11-1 vote for acquittal in his client's trial, that dismissing the charges with prejudice is the right decision.


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