MSU arson case gets under way

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Reporter - Lauren Adams
Photojournalist - Chad Darnall

BENTON, Ky. — It was a slow start to a case that many argued has already waited too long for justice. But after nearly six hours, a 14-man jury was in place.

For the prosecution, it was a second opportunity to send 35-year-old Jerry Walker to prison.

Walker is charged with starting a fire at Murray State's Hester Hall dormitory back in 1998, when he was a student. The fourth-floor fire killed sophomore Michael Minger and seriously injured another student.

Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Blankenship leads the prosecution. During his opening statements, he told the jury Jerry Walker began the fire to get the attention of his girlfriend who had broken things off just hours before.

"It hit him to have a fire outside his dorm room and he needed gas, so we went to Super America," he told the jury, adding that in multiple interviews, Walker never mentioned the trip.

But Walker's attorney Dennis Null said Walker did not lie about the trip. He simply was not asked about it.

Using a Power Point presentation, Blankenship showed the jury Walker's receipt from that night, showing the purchase of Twizzlers and one gallon of gas. Additionally, he pulled up surveillance photographs from that evening.

He also referenced a series of letters he said Walker wrote to shift the blame.

Null called the commonwealth's arguments and evidence "incorrect" and "misleading". He said the surveillance photographs and receipt proved nothing.

"They saw him come in the building. Nobody smelled any gas on Jerry Walker. Nobody saw him carry a container. Nobody ever saw Jerry Walker with any gas," he said of those interviewed in Hester Hall.

But Blankenship reminded the jury, "Keep an open mind. Gather this evidence. Listen to it as we go on this journey. But ask yourself all the way through this trial, when you look at Mr. Walker's conduct and the way he acted, is he acting like an innocent man or is he acting like a guilty man?"

The case is set to resume Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. and is expected to last through next week.

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