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7 Arrested in Dorm Fire Death

October 30, 1998

MURRAY, Ky. (AP) _ Students at Murray State University lost a schoolmate in a deliberately set dormitory fire last month, and some have been uneasy for weeks knowing that an arsonist could be lurking in their midst.

The unsettled feelings were compounded Thursday as word spread that seven people _ five of them fellow students _ were arrested a day earlier in connection with the Sept. 18 fire at Hester Hall. A 23-year-old former student was charged with capital murder.

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

Michael Minger, 19, of Niceville, Fla., died in the early-morning fire at the Hester Hall dormitory. Four other students were injured, one seriously.

Hazing among members of the school’s rugby club may have been the motive for setting the fire, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Ward.

``This was a pretty sorry prank that went bad,″ Ward said today in The Paducah Sun. ``Obviously setting a fire is not what a normal person would call a prank, but these aren’t normal people. ... I believe there was hazing involved.″

Fredrick F. McGrath II _ who attended the university last spring but wasn’t enrolled this fall _ pleaded innocent to capital murder, assault, arson, falsely reporting an incident and three counts of wanton endangerment. He was jailed without bond.

Michael McDonough, 19, a student resident of Hester Hall, and Melissa Mounce, 18, both were charged with complicity to commit murder. Mounce is not a Murray State student.

Also arrested were Brian Levine, 20; Jeremy Baker, 22; John Haney, 20; and Lana Phelps, 20. They face counts including conspiracy to commit arson, a felony charge.

Capital crimes are few and far between in Murray, a clean, bustling community of 17,000 in the gently rolling hills of western Kentucky not far from the Tennessee state line.

McGrath, Haney, Levine and Baker were members of the school’s rugby club, which is registered with the university but not a varsity sport. Phelps played for the women’s club.

Haney told his stepmother, Cathy Haney, that he had made a prank call about a fire to another rugby player in Hester Hall but that he had nothing to do with the real fire, the stepmother told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kim Baker, Jeremy Baker’s mother, said the accused are innocent. ``They made prank phone calls,″ she told the Paducah newspaper. ``That’s all they did.″

Around campus, students say they’ve noticed an increase in security since the fire.

``They’re not taking any chances anymore, and that’s the way it should have been before,″ said 26-year-old graduate student Corey Douglas.

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