In search of justice

More than a decade has passed since the devastating Hester Hall fire that caused the death of one student and injured another. Most of us weren’t here when it happened, but the impact of that fire on our day–to–day lives at Murray State is something that we should not overlook.

Since 1998, we have seen the reorganization of campus housing on the residential college model, a result of the Hester fire and the resulting death of sophomore Michael Minger.

Safety measures have been increased and policies changed to make all of us safer.

The unfolding drama that has engulfed Murray in the aftermath of that fire has been the trial of Jerry Walker, the prime suspect thought responsible for starting the fire.

Walker was initially acquited in 2001 for his role in the fire before being brought back to court earlier this year following new evidence surfacing in the case. Walker was again acquited for his role in starting the fire.

On Tuesday, Walker did, however, plead guilty to six counts of tampering with evidence in a related trial after reaching a plea agreement with Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship.

This brings a close to the saga of Jerry Walker and the Hester College fire, does it not?

We would venture that no, it does not. After spending over a decade trying to prove the guilt of Jerry Walker, the Commonwealth has failed to produce a case against Walker that links his actions to the Hester College fire.

It has wasted resources that might have been better served elsewhere in a repeated attempt to get Walker convicted for a fire that two juries are convinced he did not set.

How many more times will we travel down this road? Will Mr. Blankenship be satisfied this time around, with Walker fulfilling his end of the plea agreement, or will we watch another trial unfold in the next few years?

It seems that in the pursuit of justice, a few things are being overlooked. Namely, the notion that someone other than Jerry Walker could have been responsible for the Hester fire.

In the time and with the resources the Commonwealth has spent trying to convict Walker, we might have been able to do a bit more digging into the incident itself.

We might have been able to call up a few new suspects and see if the puzzle pieces came together for the Commonwealth to make a case.

We might have finally been able to do the family and memory of Michael Minger justice, but instead, the Commonwealth has spent our dollars and our time on a lost cause.

There’s no doubt that this incident has left some wounds that have yet to heal and has cut all of us at Murray State and in the city of Murray deep. It has changed how we live our lives and go about our daily activities on campus.

Yet the fact of the matter is that we may never truly know who started the fire. We may never have justice for a fellow Racer because of the wasted efforts of the Commonwealth on an increasingly difficult case to make.

We wish turning the page on the whole thing was easy to do – but that’s talk when there’s justice to be done.

The staff editorial is the majority opinion of the of The Murray State News Editorial Board.