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Man Charged in Dorm Fire Death

October 29, 1998

MURRAY, Ky. (AP) _ Students at Murray State University were feeling a little safer Thursday upon hearing the news that seven people had been charged with setting a dormitory fire that killed a classmate.

``Most people would say if they heard a fire alarm, they would just freak,″ said sophomore Brent Underhill, 20. ``A lot of people didn’t seem to know why it would take so long to find out who did it.″

Five students were among the seven people charged in the early-morning fire on the fourth floor of the eight-story Hester Hall dormitory on Sept. 18. Killed was Michael Minger, 19, of Niceville, Fla. Four other students were injured, one seriously.

Capital crimes are a rare occurrence in Murray, a community of 17,000 in the gently rolling hills of western Kentucky not far from the Tennessee border. So far, no one is commenting publicly on a possible motive for the fire at this school of 8,700 students.

``We don’t want to jeopardize the case,″ said Trooper Chuck Robertson of the Kentucky State Police.

A grand jury on Wednesday charged Fredrick F. McGrath II, 23, of Murray, with capital murder, assault, arson, falsely reporting an incident and three counts of wanton endangerment. The charges could bring the death penalty if he is convicted, but prosecutors haven’t said whether they’ll seek it.

McGrath, who attended the school during spring semester but was not enrolled this fall, pleaded innocent in court on Wednesday. He was being held without bond.

Two others, one of whom was a 19-year-old resident of Hester Hall, were charged with complicity to commit murder among other counts. Four others face various counts including conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit assault.

McGrath and three of the other students charged are members of a rugby club. The number of people allegedly involved in the crime surprised many on campus.

``It kind of shocked a bunch of people,″ said Andy Evans, a 23-year-old senior. ``It shocked me. I think everybody’s glad they caught them.″

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