Death Investigation

Jul 9, 2012 4:52 PM

Man Facing Arson, Manslaughter In 1998 Dorm Fire

BENTON, Ky. (AP) - A western Kentucky man who is charged with starting a fatal fire inside a Murray State University dormitory in the late 1990s is set to go on trial this week for arson and manslaughter charges.

Attorneys were selecting a jury for the trial on Monday.

Jerry Wayne Walker is also facing charges of assault and 14 counts of wanton endangerment for the 1998 fire that killed student Michael Minger in his dorm room. Walker was originally tried for murder in 2001, but the jury deadlocked.

Walker's attorney, Dennis Null, said jury selection should be completed on Monday.

State police revisited the case and brought the new charges last year, more than a decade after Walker was originally accused.

Walker, 35, was working as an assistant principal and minister at his church in Paducah when he was charged in September.

Null said Walker did not set the fire and will be cleared of the charges at the trial.

"And I think we will probably be able to prove who actually started the fire," said Null, who also defended Walker in the 2001 trial. "That's what I believe."

The trial has been moved to Marshall County from Murray. Null declined to say if Walker would testify during the trial.

Minger, a Niceville, Fla., sophomore studying music, died of smoke inhalation on Sept. 18, 1998, as he tried to flee the fourth floor fire in Hester Hall on Murray State's campus. The blaze also seriously injured another student.

Prosecutors said at the first trial that Walker was looking for attention from a girl who was playing chess with another man and had recently given Walker back a sweetheart ring.

Michael Minger's mother, Gail Minger, has said her son did not know Walker. Since his death, Gail Minger has become an advocate for dormitory safety. Minger's death led to the passage of a Kentucky state law in 2000 requiring universities to improve how they inform the public about fires and other campus crimes. It also prompted universities to renovate their buildings and equip them with sprinkler systems.

Walker's 2001 trial ended when the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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