Murray State fire suspect to be tried again -- 13 years later
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB/AP) -- The man accused of setting a deadly dorm fire at Murray State University is back to court, 13 years after the crime.
Jerry Walker pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, arson, assault, and wanton endangerment.
The fire in Hester Hall killed 19-year-old Michael Minger, of Niceville, Fla., and later prompted broad changes in campus fire security in Kentucky.
A jury in 2001 deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquitting Walker, now an official with the McCracken County schools, of Minger's death. Foust declared a mistrial. Prosecutors charged Walker again in September.
Another pre-trial hearing has been set for Dec. 22 in Murray.
Foust, who presided over the original trial in 2001, is expected to rule on several defense motions either by or at the hearing.
Walker's attorney, Dennis Null, filed two motions to dismiss the case, one based on an alleged violation of Walker's right to a speedy trial because 10 years had passed since his first trial and another saying Walker is facing trial twice for the same crime.
Null is also seeking to move any trial out of Calloway County. "I think when everything is done ... the case will be dismissed," Null told The Associated Press on Monday afternoon.
Minger's mother, Gail Minger, made the 10-hour drive from her home in the Florida panhandle to southwestern Kentucky for the hearing. In a phone interview, Gail Minger said the waiting is tough, but she's anxious to see the case go to trial. "It's just a roller coaster, wanting to know if we're going to move forward nor not," Gail Minger said.
Kentucky State Police Trooper Dean Patterson has said the agency began an in-depth review of the case "with an entire new group of eyes" last year. Patterson said the re-evaluation produced the new charges.
At the first trial, Null argued someone else started the Sept. 18, 1998, blaze that killed Minger and seriously injured another student. Walker's room in the dormitory was near where authorities believe the fire was set by igniting a flammable liquid.
But Null said at the time that no evidence was presented during the 2001 trial to show Walker started the fire or was seen in the dorm carrying a container of gasoline prior to the fire starting.
Prosecutors had surveillance photos and a transaction receipt showing Walker purchased about $1 worth of gasoline 30 minutes before the fire started. They said Walker was looking for attention from a girl who was playing chess with another man and had recently given Walker back a sweetheart ring.
Authorities began investigating Walker after he told authorities he found a letter that blamed someone else for the fire. Prosecutors said Walker, a part-time youth minister and senior at the time, wrote the letter.
Gail Minger, who runs the Michael H. Minger Foundation and pushes for stricter fire safety laws, sued Murray State over the fire, claiming the university had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying her son permission to live off campus because he suffered from mild learning disabilities. The university settled the lawsuit in 2004.
After Minger's death, legislators passed laws requiring state universities to install dorm sprinklers and ordered campuses to report fires and crimes immediately.
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