Prosecution rests in Jerry Walker case

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Reporter - Lauren Adams
Photojournalist - Chad Darnall

BENTON, Ky. — After four days of witness testimony, the prosecution closed their case against Jerry Walker Friday afternoon, shortly before 5 p.m.

Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Blankenship ended the day with fire analyst Gregory Gorbett, who would later study the fatal fire at Hester Hall.

That fire on September 18, 1998, killed sophomore Michael Minger and seriously injured another student.

Jerry Walker, another student living on the floor, was charged with arson and manslaughter. But a 2001 trial ended in a hung jury.

Late last year Walker, 36, was re-indicted on the same charges.

Using computer models, Gregory Gorbett told the jury he believed smoke filled the entire hallway, floor to ceiling, in just 30 seconds. He used 11 different models and told the jury igniting that fire did not take much.

A bucket also dominated testimony from KSP arson investigator Richard Hartz. Hartz had been to Hester Hall a week earlier on Sept. 13 to investigate a smaller fire. In one picture, a white bucket appears. It is the same type of bucket Jerry Walker later wrote of in a letter when he blamed floor mate John Eveland for the second fire.

The prosecution questioned Hartz about where the bucket had been when he snapped the picture.

"What room is that closest to?" Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Blankenship asked.

Hartz replied it was 403.

"Jerry Walker's room," Blankenship responded.

Earlier in the day, the jury got their first look at the fire-ravaged rooms of Hester Hall. The eerily quiet video, captured by KSP investigators, lasted about 20 minutes.

Also, current Murray City Fire Marshall Dickie Walls was called to testify. Calling the fire "different than anything we'd ever fought." He recalled battling chest-high flames, all the while learning the fire had proven fatal.

"The lieutenant of the rescue truck finds Mr. Priddy. He was unconscious. About the same time, possibly a little before, another pair of firefighters make the turn on the southwest corner and see feet sticking out in the hallway and go and find Michael Minger."

He also remembered 14 students, including Jerry Walker, having to be led or carried to safety.

Walker's defense team will call witnesses beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday. That is expected to last three to four days.

"What we found is approximately 0.5 to one gallon of gasoline would cause the damage, the thermal damage, and the witness statements of that fire and smoke developing in that compartment. It's consistent and validates the hypothesis of one gallon of gas causing this fire."

It is the same amount of gas a clerk at SuperAmerica had testified earlier in the week that Walker bought in the minutes before the fire.

Gorbett also testified that fire would have been so hot and so powerful, there was no possibility anyone could have set the fire, run off and made it to safety. To set the fire, Gorbett testified, the doer had to have a shield, like a door.

The jury heard from Ken Rider, a trace analyst with Kentucky State Police. He was asked extensively about debris found outside Jerry Walker's door, which was later identified as the point of origin.

A piece of metal was of particular interest, as the state believes it was the handle of a plastic bucket that stored the gasoline used the night of the fire. But the defense argued that metal could have been from the ceiling and the plastic from melted light fixtures. Rider agreed.

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