Jerry Wayne Walker Jr. pleaded guilty to six counts of tampering with physical evidence Tuesday morning in the Calloway County Circuit Court, marking the end to an almost 14-year-old battle over the Paducah man’s innocence in connection to the fatal Hester Hall fire of 1998.
Walker was indicted twice for setting the early-morning blaze on the fourth floor of Hester, but both times he walked free – most recently in July, when a jury found him innocent.
Michael Minger, a sophomore music student who lived on the far end of the fourth floor, lost his life in the Hester Residential College, formerly known as Hester Hall.
The tampering charges relate to a series of letters Walker admitted to authoring following the dorm fire. The letters, according to Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship, led the prosecution to believe Walker was behind the fatal fire. The six letters Walker wrote named suspects in the case. None of the individuals proved promising to Kentucky State Police or local authorities, but because Walker seemed to know so many details about the case, a case was opened against him, which led to his first trial, which ended in a hung jury.
Walker’s second and final trial in July ended in an acquittal, leaving the 1998 arson a mystery that may never be solved.
“We started on this journey a while ago and we didn’t expect it to become a cold case,” Blankenship said. “This is not the getting off place the Commonwealth was looking for, but we all know we have to accept the jury’s verdict. I do appreciate Jerry Walker for doing the right thing and accepting responsibility for the fabricated evidence. This is where we all now get off this case.”
Blankenship and Walker’s defense attorneys Dennis and Richard Null arranged a plea deal prior to Tuesday’s hearing that stipulated a diversion sentencing with no jail time.
Additional conditions include yearly community service to be served at Murray State’s Michael Minger Memorial Garden and that he write a formal letter of apology to law enforcement for fabricating evidence and destroying the credibility of the case.
Foust, prior to Walkers plea, read the terms of the diversion agreement.
Subject to the diversion agreement Walker said he was guilty and that he had already provided the letter of apology.
Dennis Null said the case had taken many forms over the years and he was glad it was finally being settled.
Said Null: “We appreciate the court’s consideration and Blankenship doing his job. Now this is finished and hopefully everyone has learned from the situation.”
Story by Chris Wilcox, News Editor.