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Manhattan man gets 20-month sentence in robbery that led to arson death of K-State researcher

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, August 5, 2013, at 5:40 p.m.

A Manhattan man was sentenced Monday to 20 months in federal prison for helping in an armed robbery that set in motion a series of events leading ultimately to a deadly arson in which a Kansas State University researcher died.

Dennis James Denzien, 20, pleaded guilty in a Topeka federal court to one count of aiding and abetting a robbery, according to U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s office. In his plea, Denzien admitted that on Feb. 6, he drove co-defendant Frank Joseph Hanson to Dara’s Fast Lane in Manhattan.

Wearing a mask and brandishing a revolver, Hanson entered the store. After Hanson robbed the store, Denzien drove him away from the scene.

Later that day, Riley County Police Department officers served two search warrants at a residence where Denzien lived with another defendant, Patrick Martin Scahill. Ultimately, investigators recovered a mask, gloves, a backpack and a firearm used in the robbery.

While officers were working to obtain one of the warrants they served at Denzien’s residence, Hanson, Scahill, defendant Virginia Amanda Griese, defendant Gavin Hairgrove and another person met and discussed what would happen if the police searched the residence and how to distract police long enough for Scahill to re-enter the residence and remove incriminating evidence.

In the end, Griese drove Scahill to the Lee Crest Apartments in Manhattan. Scahill poured gasoline in a hallway of the building and set a fire, hoping to distract police from searching the residence, which was across the street from the apartments. Vasanta Pallem, a postgraduate researcher at Kansas State University who lived on the third floor of the apartments, was overcome by smoke and unable to escape the burning building.

Sentencing for Hanson, who pleaded guilty to robbery, is set for Monday.

Scahill was sentenced last month to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to arson resulting in a death. Griese has been sentenced to 20 years on the same charge.

Hairgrove is set for trial Oct. 8.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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