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Two plead guilty in arson that killed K-State researcher

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at 8:49 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, May 11, 2013, at 4:29 p.m.

Correction: Gavin Hairgrove is 19. His age was incorrectly listed in a previous version of this story.

Two people may face life in federal prison for their roles in setting a Manhattan apartment fire that killed a Kansas State University researcher earlier this year, a federal prosecutor said in a news release.

Patrick Martin Scahill, 20, and Virginia Amanda Griese, 19, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count each of arson resulting in death, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

Fumes from the fire, set Feb. 6 at Manhattan’s Lee Crest Apartments, killed K-State researcher Vasanta Pallem as she fled billowing smoke rising to her third-floor apartment.

In his plea, Scahill admitted he ignited the blaze to keep law enforcement busy so he could get rid of a gun used in an earlier convenience store robbery, narcotics and stolen property, Grissom said. Griese bought the 5-gallon gasoline can and fuel used to start the fire and drove around with Scahill looking for something to burn that day, he said.

Scahill and Griese — two of several people charged in the case — face a maximum penalty of life in prison, Grissom said. They are due back in court for sentencing July 15.

Also pleading guilty in the case was 22-year-old Frank Joseph Hanson, one of the convenience store robbers, Grissom said. He is set for sentencing July 8.

Co-defendants awaiting trial are 20-year-old Dennis James Denzien, another robber, and 19-year-old Gavin Taylor Hairgrove, who helped dispose of gasoline-soaked apparel and drove with Griese and another person to buy the gas can, Grissom said.

All are Manhattan residents.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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