Jury finds Walker not guilty on all charges in arson case
Editor's note: updates throughout with additional details from the courtroom
MARSHALL COUNTY, Ky. — Late Wednesday afternoon, a jury found Jerry Walker not guilty on all charges, including arson, manslaughter, assault and wanton endangerment. Walker faced the charges in connection with a deadly dorm fire at Murray State University in 1998.
His 2001 trial ended in a hung jury. But late last year, investigators re-indicted Walker.
The fire killed sophomore Michael Minger and seriously injured another student when it ripped through the fourth floor of the Hester Hall dormitory.
After a little over four hours of deliberations, the jury announced it had reached its verdicts.
As Judge Dennis Faust read, "Count one, we the jury find Jerry Walker Jr. not guilty," a wave of relief washed over his face.
They were words 36-year-old Walker and his family had waited years to hear. They were words Gail and John Minger were dreading. It was their son Michael who had died in that fire.
Gail Minger could only say later she was shocked.
But lead defense attorney Dennis Null, who had tried the first case, said he was not surprised by the jury's decision, only grateful.
"It's 14 years of emotion," he said. "We've worked so hard on this case. The jury system prevails."
In fact, Null, like much of Walker's family, was moved to tears when the verdicts were read.
Walker's wife Karen said later, "We can get back to our family and back on with our lives."
A life for them is a trio of young daughters. As he left the courtroom, Jerry Walker said he was not just thinking of his children, but also of the Mingers.
"I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child," he said. "I have three of my own. I can't imagine."
Gail and John Minger had already lost so much and Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Blankenship said they lost again Wednesday.
He said the closure he had fought so hard to give them had slipped right through his fingers.
"It hurts us this happened," he said. "A student came here and died and we never did get justice for him."
Blankenship went as far as apologizing to the Mingers. But the pair would not accept that apology. Gail Minger told him he had nothing to be sorry for. She told him she was grateful he had reopened the case and, she said, she knew he had given it everything he had.
Leaving the courthouse, Jerry Walker told Local 6 he was grateful to be going home.
"I thank God, glad for it to finally be over."
At the time of the indictment, Walker was the assistant principal at Paducah Middle School and was put on administrative leave. No word on just how soon he will return.