Circuit Judge Dennis Foust issued a ruling on Oct. 12, refusing the motion to dismiss six tampering charges against Jerry Wayne Walker Jr.
Walker, a Paducah man who was tried twice for the fatal Hester College dorm fire in 1998, has been charged with all six felony counts of tampering in that same investigation.
Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship filed the new charges.
Blankenship said he attempted to merge the tampering charges with the allegations brought against the defendant earlier in the year, but the defense did not want the cases to conflict.
Blankenship brought the tampering charges against Walker following a Marshall County jury acquittal over the summer on charges related to the death of Michael Minger in Hester College.
“Guilty or not guilty, the trial for the death of the student is over,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s innocent, it just means we can’t try him again.”
Blankenship said the evidence was strong enough to convict Walker, who allegedly forged letters at the start of the first investigation that mislead police. Of course, Blankenship said, the jury would have to ignore Walker’s standing in the community and rely on evidence alone.
“Walker injected himself into the investigation,” Blankenship said. “He intentionally deceived the police and permanently damaged the case.”
Those letters were what led the prosecution to believe Walker was behind the ‘98 fire. He said when the police discovered Walker wrote them, it led them to believe he was guilty, and that was the reason Walker was tried in 2001.
“I made the same mistake by looking at the letters as evidence against Walker,” he said. “I should have looked at the forged letters as a separate federal crime.”
Blankenship said the defense was using the new charges brought against Walker as a vendetta. He said he honestly believed there should be a consequence for the forged letters, because they dramatically influenced the case and ensured it would never be solved.
He said tampering, by definition, is changing the outcome of a federal proceeding in order to create doubt.
“We’re all ready to put this to bed,” he said. “We all just want Walker to step up and take responsibility. We’re even offering diversion.”
Blankenship said the plea bargain he has offered Walker stipulates a diversion with no jail time, with the conditions that Walker perform some kind of yearly community service and he apologize to law enforcement for fabricating evidence.
“I’ve been called a persecutor and I’m not,” he said. “I can prove through DNA evidence and testimony that he forged the letters and I’m hopeful Walker’s attorney will recommend to him he accept the agreement.”
Blankenship said if the defense proceeds to trial, he hopes the jury would convict so there is some form of consequence for wasting so much time and money.
Dennis Null, Walker’s defense attorney, said he has heard community members calling the case a witch hunt and that he couldn’t disagree.
“This is an attack and not justice,” he said. “We’re talking about a long and involved process – there is such a delay and this is so public; I believe if we take this to trial we would win.”
Null said he and his client have not made any decisions regarding the plea and have some time to consider it.
“We’re looking at all possibilities,” he said. “We might look into overturning the judge’s ruling, but we may be forced to appeal the decision after the trial.”
Walker’s initial trial in 2001 ended with a hung jury and then, in July of this year, another jury acquitted him on charges of manslaughter and wanton endangerment.
Walker will appear in court Nov. 13 for a preliminary hearing.
Story by Chris Wilcox, News Editor.