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Kirklevington apartments arson trial begins

As employees at Kirklevington Hills apartments described it Monday in an arson trial in Lexington, nothing could please tenant Michael D. Mitchell.

Mitchell insisted that he had been promised new appliances and discounted rent at his apartment on 3050 Kirklevington Drive, even though the rental application and lease agreement did not corroborate his claims, employees testified.

He complained about the stove, the refrigerator, the toilet and the kitchen countertops.

"He began complaining about things the first day he moved in," manager Mary Hickey testified in the first day of Mitchell's arson trial in U.S. District Court.

Federal prosecutors say Mitchell, a former University of Kentucky graduate student, was attempting to get out of his lease without paying a penalty because of a series of at least three fires at the complex from February 2005 to December 2006.

The apartment management would allow only renters whose units were uninhabitable to break their lease.

The government says Mitchell, who was indicted in June, stole the key to unit 96A, two stories above his apartment and where the apartment owner lived while in town. Mitchell allegedly doused the carpet with gasoline and set it ablaze.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins told jurors that Mitchell is not suspected in the other fires.

Defense lawyer Patrick Nash said in his opening statement that Mitchell is innocent. In his cross-examination of Hickey, the former apartment manager, Nash implied that other people may be responsible for the fire.

Hickey testified that an ex-boyfriend was caught on tape vandalizing her car the night of a fire in December 2006. She also acknowledged to Nash that she had recently evicted an ex-felon because he owned a pit bull, had fired a disgruntled employee, had evicted a brother and sister for not paying rent, and that some contractors were angry because they had not been paid by the apartment owners for construction work.

Hawkins said Mitchell lived next to where the apartment's owners parked their silver Range Rover. The SUV was to be towed that day, Feb. 26, so keys to the vehicle and the owner's apartment were left in it.

A bottle of Rain-X was also in the vehicle.

The carpet had swirl marks in an S-pattern, apparently from someone pouring gasoline on it and setting it ablaze.

Outside the apartment, a bottle of Rain-X was found, half filled with gasoline. The fingerprints on it were traced to Mitchell, Hawkins said.