BENTON — A Western Kentucky man who was charged last year with starting a fatal fire inside a Murray State University dormitory in 1998 is on trial this week on arson and manslaughter charges.
Attorneys gave opening statements in the trial of Jerry Wayne Walker on Monday afternoon after seating a jury.
Walker also faces charges of assault and 14 counts of wanton endangerment for the 1998 fire that killed student Michael Minger in his dorm room. Walker was tried for murder in 2001, but a mistrial was declared when the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal.
State police revisited the case and brought the new charges last year.
Walker, 35, was working as an assistant principal and minister at his church in Paducah when he was charged in September.
Dennis Null, Walker's attorney, said Walker did not set the fire and will be cleared of the charges at the trial.
"And I think we will probably be able to prove who actually started the fire. That's what I believe," said Null, who also defended Walker in the 2001 trial.
The trial has been moved to Marshall County from Murray. Null declined to say whether Walker would testify.
Minger, a Niceville, Fla., sophomore who was studying music, died of smoke inhalation on Sept. 18, 1998, as he tried to flee the fourth-floor fire in Hester Hall on Murray State's campus. The blaze seriously injured another student.
Prosecutors said at the first trial that Walker was looking for attention from a girl who was playing chess with another man and had recently returned a sweetheart ring to Walker.
Minger's mother, Gail Minger, has said her son did not know Walker, who lived in the same dorm. Since her son's death, Gail Minger has become an advocate for dorm safety. Minger's death led to the passage of a Kentucky state law in 2000 requiring universities to improve how they inform the public about fires and other campus crimes. It also prompted universities to renovate buildings and equip them with sprinkler systems.