Meghann Anderson || Assistant News Editor
Jerry Wayne Walker Jr., appeared in Calloway County Circuit Court Aug. 13, for the third time after recently being acquitted of charges in connection to a fatal 1998 residential college fire at Murray State.
Walker pleaded not guilty to charges of tampering with evidence in connection to the case. The fire resulted in the death of Florida student Michael Minger and injury to Paducah student Michael Priddy in September of 1998.
Marshall County Judge Dennis Foust set a hearing for 1 p.m. on Sept. 7, after Walker entered his plea to charges of six counts of tampering with evidence.
A Marshall County jury acquitted Walker last month of setting the 1998 fire in Hester Hall at Murray State. The new charges were sealed and not included in the previous trial, after a Calloway County grand jury indicted Walker in June.
Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship said the charges relate to letters used as evidence at the trial in Benton, Ky.
The charges also brought a response from Walker’s defense team Monday.
Richard Null, Walker’s defense attorney, said he was pleased when Walker was acquitted of all charges earlier this month.
“In a nut shell, they brought the charges, and we filed a motion the judge set it for a hearing,” he said. “I think the outcome should be the charges be dropped, and we feel like our chances our good.”
Null also said he was pleased Murray State installed sprinkler systems in the dorms after the incident in 1998.
“Hopefully this will be over once and for all,” he said.
Walker’s first trial in 2001 in Hopkinsville, Ky., resulted in a hung jury. He was re-charged last September for the fire and had a re-trial last month. He was the assistant principal at Paducah Middle School in Paducah, Ky.
Walker was reassigned to an administrative position in Paducah City Schools’ central office after those charges were filed.
The defense entered court Monday hoping Blankenship would ask Foust for a dismissal of the tampering charges. Blankenship decided to proceed with the case.
“The commonwealth is not ready to dismiss these charges in any way, shape or form,” Blankenship told Foust in open court, explaining he had offered probation for the tampering charges in June during preparations for the July re-trial.
“I advised the defendant on that, and that we could even join the charges with the case we just had, but he refused,” he said.
Dennis Null stood with Walker during Monday’s arraignment and said former Graves County Circuit Judge John Daughaday would argue for the defense in the Sept. 7 hearing.
In the July hearing, the jury found Walker not guilty on all charges brought against him at that time.
“About a month before a trial and during preparation, I noticed he had never been charged with tampering,” Blakenship said. “I took that case to the grand jury prior to the trial and asked to add six counts of tampering and fabricating evidence.”
Blakenship said the jury had no idea there was anything else, and it was his discretion to go forward and prosecute Walker on the tampering charges.
He said he felt the letters and content revealed he was guilty.
Blakenship said he is hoping the case will get settled and Walker would not go to jail.
“The time argument won’t hold up— they tried with that in 2001 and 2012,” Blankenship said.
“I’m hoping he will take our offer and put this to rest forever.”